Written by Jacob EDI

New minimum wage brouhaha

The history of Nigeria trade union is replete with crises and struggles for improved welfare package for its workforce. The first major crisis could be traced to 1975, when the Nigerian Military Government cancelled the registration of the four unions and announced its new policies and guidelines for new registration of labour.

Before the departure of the Obansanjo regime in 1979, the NLC gave the federal government an ultimatum. The Obasanjo regime was shocked, and decided to look into some of the worker's demands though not all the demands were met. In 1979, the Alhaji Shehu Shagari led administration came into light but the socio-economic conditions, contributed to increasing workers strike.

The NLC extended it grievances to the Shagari administration, with the hope that its problems would be better solved, since the regime is a democratically elected government.

Nevertheless, the Shagari administration found at its door steps multifarious problems which include high rate of corruption, looting, mismanagement of resources, rural urban migration including the exodus of African neighbouring states to Nigeria which put pressure on the limited urban amenities, job security, unemployment, poverty, low pay, inflation, scarcity of goods and services and generally high cost of living.

During the period, there was the decline in oil revenue which further compounded this problem. This means that the government cannot keep abreast to her responsibilities, and becomes obvious that the Nigerian workers have to take the burden.

The condition of the working class in the second republic was therefore, to put it mildly was undesirable and pathetic. Workers were not paid their salaries and allowances as when due.

In an attempt to solve the economic problem; government introduced the Economic Stabilization Act in March 1982. The Act, rather than stop retrenchment of workers and provide gainful employment, increased the number of retrenchment as factories were closed partially or completely especially textile industries.

The NLC, issued several warnings to government by demanding the right to work, regular payment of wages, stop compulsory retrenchment, full graduate employment, stop economic and social waste. According to NLC report, a total of 20,000 workers were retrenched, while those who were not, were not paid their salaries up to six months and above.

The May 1981 strike by NLC shook government and employers of labour. The NLC demanded for vehicle allowances and basic allowances. National minimum wage of N300, and national minimum wage for pensioners. The state responded by arresting workers and union leaders.

In March, 1982, members of the Electricity and Gas Union also went on strike and the whole nation was on total darkness, this lasted for over a week.

Members of the Civil Service Technical Workers Union also joined the strike after the 21-day ultimatum given to government expired. The Nigerian Academic Staff Union of Universities and other Unions joined the strike, which also lasted for 10 weeks and it disrupted the universities calendar. There was virtually no union that did not embark on strike.

As at that time, the country recorded 247 registered trade disputes and strikes leading to a loss of over $1 million including the over hundreds of lives. It was clear that the only language the government and private employers understand is strike.

To address the persistent trade disputes that has characterized all regimes, the federal government in 2004 came up with the Labour Act aimed at tackling the minimum wage brouhaha in the country.

The Labour Act of 2004 set the standard for the minimum amount a worker in Nigeria is supposed to make.

In 2004 the minimum wage was set to₦5,500.00 per month. In 2011, the National Minimum Wage Act upscale the minimum wage to ₦18,000.00 per month, while in 2018, the national minimum has been pegged at N30, 000.00.

It is instructive to note that the Labour Act of 2004 also has an exception that states that any establishment which employs fewer than 50 workers does not have to abide to the Nigerian minimum wage.

In all of these, it is very glaring that devaluation and deregulation of interest rate has exerted adverse impacts on the Nigeria wage earners. This is because as far as production is concerned, there is no industry that has not complained of capacity utilization in the past three decades.

The consequences of which has been retrenchment of workers, where this is not possible, workers are denied their basic pay for months, and consequently, the Nigeria wage earner is left to fend for his survival in order to sustain his life and those of his dependents.

Sadly, strikes and counter strikes have been the only means of obtaining union's rights in Nigeria. This ought not to be so as industrial strike is not in the best interest of any party. 

As Nigerians are happy that the recent industrial action was averted by reaching a compromise of up scaling the national minimum wage to N30, 000.00, it is the view of this paper that measures should be put in place to avoid future industrial disputes.

One option is for government to consider and take the issue of social insurance of Nigeria workers very seriously. Also, workers should in addition to payment of gratuities be given facilities alongside, to facilitate their being employed in the near future.

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