The present minimum wage was put in place by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010. He put it during the May Day celebration whilst pleading with protesters whose planned warning strike was scheduled to commence the next day.
Prior to this development, the minimum wage was increased by President Olusegun Obasanjo to bring levels into line with economic reality after the level had remained unchanged since 1981. Nine years after and the present regime is faced with the same situation. Only now, the workers are faced with the possibility of retrenchment.
The Federal Government (FG) Ministry of Labour and Employment and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have been at the negotiation tables for a while now, and at the onset, a consensus of N30,000 was reached. Two months ago, the rumor of the implementation of the minimum wage circulated and Corps members were happy as they were supposed to be the first recipients. However, till date, these people are still on the N18,000 minimum wage.
The Trade Union Congress are threatening the Federal Government with a strike action if their demands aren’t met. This threat came as a result of the statement made by Minister Chris Ngige that the Federal Government might be unable to implement the minimum wage decision without resorting to retrenchment. According to his statement, there are more than a million workers in the public sector and the Federal Government would need N580 billion annually to pay these workers the minimum wage.
Is the Trade Union Congress advocating for a national minimum wage increase or a general wage review as these are totally different issues? A national minimum wage increase is quite justifiable especially for workers earning below the minimum wage but a general wage increase will affect all sectors across board.
According to Mr. Kayode Fayemi, the Ekiti State Governor, a nine percent increase of the minimum wage across board can be considered but the Congress’s demand for a 45% consequential increase is quite unrealistic given the country’s present economic crises.
This negotiation has taken enough time and if due attention isn’t paid, it will die out like other negotiations before it. If the Federal Government can’t afford the general wage increase presently, let it at least implement the minimum wage increase so that the workers in the Grade Level 1-6 can level up against the harsh realities of life and that will be a victory won for the Congress.
Regarding the issue of retrenchment, it might not be a bad idea if seen in another light and if the workers that will be considered will not be the ones that should enjoy the minimum wage increase.
Retrenching workers on GL16-17 won’t be a bad idea as they’ve served the country and are even closer to retirement. Also, retrenchment of workers who are older than fifty-five years or redundant workers should be eyed as some of them only go to work to get paid and nothing more. This will help create employment opportunities for the unemployed but the question is will this opportunity be advertised or publicized? Will the opportunity be available to an average Nigerian with no connection or financial resources?
On the issue of the financial capacity of the country to increase the minimum wage, there are a number of options available to the Federal Government that can be exploited. Topping the list of options is scrapping parastatals with overlapping responsibilities with other parastatals. An example is the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
These parastatals all have in common a single mission which is to manage disasters, coordinate the plans and programmes for efficient and effect response to disasters at the national level. Whilst, the establishment of a federal ministry for this purpose is somewhat commendable, one can agree that it’s time to scrap other agencies or fuse them into one ministry to avoid wastage of financial and human resources.
The Federal Government just released its budget for 2020 and it totaled to a whopping sum of N10.6 trillion which is totally understandable given the increase in population being experienced every year. However, total dependence on oil as the most viable source of revenue for the country won’t cut it in 2020. The Value Added Tax of 7.5% might help boost the country’s revenue but its effect can only be minimal.
It is time for the country to exploit other sources of income like Agriculture, Entertainment, Technological Innovations, Traditional Resources, etc. It’s time to get it right as a country.