Workers Day: Labour’s Unmet Expectations and the Politics of Minimum Wage

Workers Day: Labour’s Unmet Expectations and the Politics of Minimum Wage

This year’s Workers Day celebration is of mixed feelings for the Nigerian labour unions, championed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). The unions were expectant that the Federal Government would announce a new minimum wage today, May 1, 2024, but that has not come to be as both labour

This year’s Workers Day celebration is of mixed feelings for the Nigerian labour unions, championed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). The unions were expectant that the Federal Government would announce a new minimum wage today, May 1, 2024, but that has not come to be as both labour and the government are yet to agree on the vexed issue while awaiting the outcome of the Tripartite Committee set up last year.

The issue of minimum wage for workers has always been contentious. Labour is ever complaining of inadequate wages while the government laments inadequate revenue to match up labour’s demand. Labour wants the minimum wage to be centrally negotiated and passed into law while some states often lament the inability to pay whatever is agreed nationally because of the peculiarities of their states. It issue has remained a ding-dong affair.

Celebrations of Workers Day have always come with expectations for the labour unions as a day they expect announcements of some largesse from the government to put smiles on workers’ faces. The year 2024 was no exception and the countdown to the day has been hyped given the several altercations between labour and the government since the inauguration of the administration of President Bola Tinubu. But on this occasion of the Workers Day celebration, there will be no joyous news announcement from the government.

But to fill the void, the federal government of Nigeria had chosen an auspicious time, the eve of the Workers Day celebration to announce some salary increases for certain categories of workers in the federal civil service.

Government’s Announcement of Salary Increase

The federal government has approved 25 per cent and 35 per cent salary increases for civil servants on the six Consolidated Salary Structures, Head of Press, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC), Emmanuel Njoku, announced on Tuesday.

“They include Consolidated Public Service Salary Structure (CONPSS), Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure (CONRAISS) and Consolidated Police Salary Structure (CONPOSS). Others are Consolidated Para-military Salary Structure (CONPASS), Consolidated Intelligence Community Salary Structure (CONICCS) and Consolidated Armed Forces Salary Structure (CONAFSS).

“The federal government has also approved increases in pension of between 20 per cent and 28 per cent for pensioners on the Defined Benefits Scheme. This was in line with the provisions of Section 173(3) of the Nigerian Constitution”.
Mr Njoku recalled that those in the tertiary education and health sectors had already received their increases. “This involves Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS) and Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure (CONTISS) for universities.

“For Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, it involves the Consolidated Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Academic Staff Salary Structure (CONPCASS) and Consolidated Tertiary Educational Institutions Salary Structure (CONTEDISS).

“The Health Sector also benefitted through the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) and Consolidated Health Sector Salary Structure (CONHESS),” Mr Njoku said.

NLC Reacts to FG’s Salary Increases for Civil Servants

Mr Benson Upah, NLC Spokesperson

But the NLC spokesman, Comrade Benson Upah said the salary increase gesture should be extended to all the categories of civil servants. Claiming not to have seen the details of the government’s announcement as the NLC was yet to formally receive it, but the pay rise affects only certain categories of workers in the public service. He described it as a welcome development but urged the government to ensure that the margin of such an increase is reflective of the harsh economic situation in the country.

He lamented the dire situation where necessities such as transportation, education and healthcare had become unaffordable for Nigerian workers. The rising inflation rate is higher than whatever increases the government is adding to salaries. He says workers want a return to better days, with a better life, better electricity, better infrastructure and enhanced salary.

Politicisation of Workers Salary Review

Festus Osifo TUC President

The President of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Festus Osifo, hinted last Friday that the new minimum wage may not be announced on 1 May. “The negotiation by the Tripartite Committee is still ongoing. If you remember, the TUC earlier submitted N447,000 as the new minimum wage but we have harmonised our figure with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

“It is now N615,000. Regarding the when of the new minimum wage, the committee is still working,” he said.
The minimum wage in Nigeria has been steady at NGN 30,000 since 18 April 2019. In 2023, the Government announced an additional NGN 35,000 wage award (wage subsidy) for six months, starting from 1 September 2023. Another minimum wage is statutorily due in 2024.

Announcements of new minimum wage or wage awards have always come with a spike in prices across the board. This is because they are often mismanaged by the government. Prices of commodities and services have reached the rooftops since the removal of petroleum products subsidies and the official depreciation of the Naira. Often, it is the people outside paid government jobs that bear the brunt of salary increases.

Edo State Blazes the Trail

Governor Godwin Obaseki

But the Edo state governor fired a salvo on Thursday by announcing a new minimum wage for workers in his state irrespective of the outcome of the negotiation on national minimum wage.
According to Governor Godwin Obaseki,” After paying the highest Minimum Wage in the country at N40,000 since May 1st 2022, we have decided to make another adjustment.

“In our efforts to make life and conditions better for our workers despite the challenging economic environment, the Edo State Government has decided to increase the Minimum Wage to N70,000 per month, effective May 1st.

Obaseki announced at the commissioning of the Edo State Labour House Complex, a new building to serve as the Secretariat of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, in the state, where he promised that if the Federal Government announces a new wage higher than N70,000, his administration would adjust to meet the benchmark.
Unfortunately, several states have found it difficult to pay the minimum wage of N30,000.00 since the announcement of the wage award of N35,000 under President Tinubu to cushion the effect of the removal of fuel subsidies only a handful of states have been able to pay.

Union Kicks Against Politicisation of Workers’ Salary

The Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, has given a different perspective to what it describes as the politicisation of the salary review of public servants in the country, saying such politicisation has always worked against civil servants.

Its Secretary General, Joshua Apebo, while lamenting that for over two years a committee set up to review upward the salaries of public servants completed its assignment, but its report has not been released.

“But already, the politicisation of salaries review has created multiple problems for civil servants even when the upward review has not been done. When salaries of private sector workers are increased, nobody hears about it. They enjoy their salary increase without hassles. But when it comes to civil servants, everybody wants to take from it and exploit the civil servants. Government should stop politicizing reviews of the salaries of civil servants so that the civil servants could enjoy the value of the increase.”

This year’s labour day has failed to meet the expectations of the Nigerian workers who have kept hope alive under the renewed hope agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The almost-year tenure of Tinubu has witnessed not less than five strike actions by the labour unions. Nigerians expect that a truce will be reached soon on the new minimum wage in such a way that there will be a harmonious relationship between the government and the workers. The economy cannot withstand widespread and prolonged disruptions through industrial action by the workers.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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