Living wage – The Nation

  • Governors have no excuse stalling introduction of new wage structure

Organised Labour has expressed reservation about the excuse by the Amma Pepple Committee saddled with coming up with a new national minimum wage structure that governors are frustrating efforts to conclude the assignment. The committee, inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari in November last year had pledged to submit its proposals in September. Unfortunately, Dr. Chris Ngige who, as Minister of Labour is the committee’s deputy chairman, has now  indicated that the deadline is unrealistic given the reluctance of governors to submit their proposals. Although the 36 governors are represented on the committee by six members, they have indicated that the governors’ forum is yet to reach a consensus on the subject.

It is unacceptable that governors who meet regularly at the National Economic Council and on the federal allocation to the various tiers of government would need more than 10 months to come to terms on the need to pay living wage to workers. Many of the issues being canvassed by the governors have been competently tackled by Organised Labour. Whereas the governors have, in the light of Nigeria being a federation, contended that each state should negotiate appropriate wages dictated by productivity index and ability to pay with its employees, workers have equally queried why all political office holders earn the same basic salaries and allowances.

Besides, whereas governors are averse to having minimum wage on the exclusive legislative list of the 1999 Constitution, Labour has resisted a campaign for expunging it from the list with a powerful contention that there are many other things kept on the list that could be regarded as incongruous to the federal structure. Such items as the central police, failure to implement fiscal federalism, among others, have been preserved on the excuse of a fledgling democracy. It could, therefore, not be considered strange with regards to only the minimum wage.

We consider it unfair to keep a minimum wage of N18,000 in place seven years after it was introduced despite a drastic change in the cost of living index. It’s been pointed out that Nigerian workers are about the poorest among oil producing countries. Over the years, inflation has eroded the value of the N18,000 minimum wage. This is a country where legislators and executive office holders literally roll in opulence. Monthly, the politicians and their aides draw humongous allowances unknown to the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission. A living wage will also boost disposable income and aid production.

The argument that state governments are currently struggling with payment of salaries is lame since it is indicative of the lack of creativity by those elected to pilot affairs at that level. Most states are blessed with natural resources, especially fertile soil that could have been converted to wealth. Anyone who, realising the parlous position of the state economy decides to contest is offering himself to lift it out of the doldrums. Almost two decades after the return to democracy most states can only internally generate less than 15 per cent of their revenue. They give the same excuse that the set of 1999-2003 gave, while living in opulence and drawing allowances that are beyond comprehension. Security vote remains a vexed issue as a huge sum is kept by each governor never to be accounted for, contrary to the practice anywhere else in the democratic world where openness and accountability are acknowledged ingredients of good governance.

While acknowledging that the existing wages is inadequate, it may be difficult to sustain Labour’s demand of N56,000 monthly salary for the least paid workers. We are conscious of the fact that no state is in position to effect a 300 – 400 per cent increase in pay at once. A middle ground has to be worked out immediately. It is an irony that governors who have always complained about being sidetracked in the process of setting new wage structure are the ones now dragging their feet. We should not allow partisan political consideration becloud the negotiations, hence the need for the committee to quickly conclude deliberations and submit its report to the President, leaving enough time for presentation to the Federal Executive Council, and then the National Assembly before the heat of electioneering makes this impossible.

Nigerians deserve the best; workers deserve good wages and any governor who has shown reluctance to guarantee the good of the greatest number should be kept out of positions of responsibility in 2019.

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