One question that has been on my mind before the recent come back of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), is whether or not the organized labour which the People’s President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole contributed to build was still as active as it used to be because the NLC under the leadership of Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar has been silent for several months.
Though the new leadership of the NLC at the advent of the Yar’ Adua administration embarked on a strike against an increase in the prices of petroleum products but it had since been passive in the struggle to ensure justice and fairness for all workers.
So many issues that demand the attention of the labour movement have been raised in the last one year. They include the provision of subsidy for low income earners; the marginalization of casual factory workers; issues of child labour; the sponsorship of bills that will support workers; strict adherence to the minimum wage by every employee; amendment of labour laws; the dismissal of union members by some employers; the discrimination against union members involved in organized efforts e.t.c. The aforementioned issues are within the purview of the labour movement and many of them have been left unattended to in time past but kudos to the immediate past labour leader for his abundance of courage and will.
Most of these issues are as important as securing salary increases for all workers as well as protesting arbitrary increases in the prices of petroleum products. Therefore, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar must ensure that Nigerian workers get a better deal in all these areas.
Labour’s resolve to ensure the approval of a living wage for workers this year shows that the NLC is back again. The NLC was reported to have made a call for an increase in the National minimum wage from N5,500 to N52,000 after a meeting of its National Executive Council in Kano on December 18, 2008. It also advise government to expedite release of the N70 billion rescue package which was promised two years ago by the Obasanjo administration for the textile industry.
Indeed, NLC has woken up to the difficulties faced by Nigerian workers to sustain themselves and their families with the current minimum wage. With the harsh economic conditions of the country, there is an urgent need to provide safety nets for over 70 per cent of Nigerian citizens who live below poverty line. It is saddening how public office holders who where meant to serve Nigerians get a better pay package than the Nigerian workers. Nigerian leaders of government are less concerned about the welfare of the citizens but the welfare of Nigerians cannot be taken lightly because they are the most vulnerable to the effects of any economic crisis, hence, government must ensure that workers are adequately rewarded for their labour.
The current minimum wage which is about N5,500 can hardly do anything in the Nigerian economy. Prices are going up on daily needs due to the devaluation of Naira among others. Really, there is no better time for a wage increase than now. Labour’s push for the amendment of the minimum wage Act 2000 is long overdue. The Nigerian government has no other option than to accede to the demands of the organized labour. Federal Government’s excuse based on the global financial meltdown is not tenable and acceptable besides labour’s demand is feasible and possible. It is not the workers fault that the Naira keeps falling thereby making the N5,500 minimum wage useless and unrealistic.
The recalcitrant attitude of indifference cannot be afforded by government this time around; therefore, it would be in government’s best interest to continue negotiations with the organized labour until a middle ground is reached because strikes always have a devastating effect on the nation’s economy. Besides, as the country begins to feel the impact of the global economic recession, government must avoid such dangerous actions and accede to the demands of labour.
However, insinuations that government may reduce its workforce to meet organized labour’s demand for a new minimum wage is tantamount to being insensitive to the plight of the Nigerian workers as there was no retrenchment when government was increasing salaries and allowances of political office holders by 800 per cent. It does not matter if public office holders are affected by the general wage review, as long as Nigerian workers get a living wage enough to make them rise out of poverty.
There is no gainsaying the fact that “the rich man who does not take care of the poor will not sleep at night.” Hence, government must as a matter of urgency increase the wages and incomes of the Nigerian workers in order to prevent further impoverishment of the nation’s workforce.