Reflections on Workers’ Day

The new national minimum wage, job losses and the dwindling fortunes of most Nigerians are issues likely to dominate speeches at rallies on this year’s May Day, as Nigerian workers join their counterparts in most parts of the world to celebrate their day. It is another demand-making day for the labour movement represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria. Chants of “Solidarity forever!” are in the air. But how far have the demands of yesteryear been met?

By law, the minimum wage is now N30, 000 per month. After the legislature’s passage of a bill to that effect and President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent, what is left is implementation. It is feared, however, that many state governments will not obey the law, just as some of them have yet to implement the N18, 000 minimum wage that took effect from 2011. Even for federal workers, nobody knows how the law will be implemented: Is it just an increment in the pay of the least paid workers to bring it up to N30, 000? Will senior workers who currently earn more than N30, 000 see a substantial increase in their pay? A minor increase is likely. Yet, market women and women have already increased the prices of commodities in the market on hearing that the minimum wage has become law. What is not contestable is that N30, 000 of today is worth less than N18, 000 of 2011.

Even as we observe Workers’ Day, it is necessary to express disapproval of the average Nigerian worker’s poor attitude to work. Commitment is lacking especially in the public service where “government work is nobody’s work”. Many workers depend on sleaze for their survival, since they do not earn a living wage. On the other hand, the life of the Nigerian worker is still governed by fear, despair, deprivation and poverty. But he is far better off than the Nigerian jobseeker who does not know where the next meal will come from. 

Pay disparity within units of government establishments has been a major source of discord in the civil service, and government’s spending on its workers has been unfairly skewed against the rest of us. Once in this country, the federal government said it was working on plans to harmonise the salaries of all federal workers with a view to achieving equitable pay across the civil service. It never did. Employees in agencies such as the NNPC, CBN, NDIC and NIMASA – and these are the workplaces of the children and wards of influential Nigerians who were often hired without any preceding form of interview – earn more than 20 times the wages of their mates in other government ministries, departments and agencies. Many Nigerians in the informal sector earn even less than the latter. And each politician in the legislature or the executive arm of government earns N10million to N30million each month, even though they do little work; in fact, they have made laws granting themselves eye-popping “severance” allowance every four years, and retirement to a life of everlasting comfort.  Yet, all of us go to the same market.

Public servants have performed poorly in their duty to this country, and that is why Nigeria is in this sorry state. Rather than render quality service to the nation, they have put themselves first, choosing to rip the country off. It is often a joke – but not without concrete grounds – that if you went into government today, honest and ready to serve, civil servants would teach you how to steal public funds. And if you were stubborn, they would frustrate you to unconditional surrender through their time-tested official barrier – the infamous red tape.

The labour movement and civil society groups have a lot to protest against this year. Life in Nigeria has become, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “laborious, miserable, nasty and short”. Insecurity, which the current APC government swore to halt, has assumed dangerous dimensions. Terrorists from hell have wasted innocent lives not just in Borno State but also in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Taraba, Adamawa, Benue and Yobe almost every day. The monsters are extending their evil deeds to Osun, Edo, Anambra and Enugu. Only this Monday, the chairman of UBEC and his daughter were kidnapped on the Abuja—Kaduna expressway; their driver was shot dead. Hundreds of other motorists who abandoned their vehicles and fled or were captured by the hoodlums have not been accounted for.

We urge Nigerian workers to take up the challenge of making Nigeria a better place for all. Until good governance takes root, the demand for jobs for millions of unemployed Nigerian school leavers should not cease. Good governance is in everybody’s interest.  Until visionary leaders take charge, there will be no solution to the security crisis, power crisis, unemployment crisis, monumental corruption and other emergencies that are killing the nation quietly. 

With: The Oracle Today

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