Is December 1 deadline for the payment of N30,000 minimum wage feasible?


As far as I am concerned, the deadline given by labour unions for the payment of this N30,000 minimum wage is feasible.

The government can pay this if it wants to pay. When there is a will, there will always be a way. As long as the entitlements of political office holders are not denied them, the stipends labour is demanding should be paid without further delay.

How many people are in government employment? If you look at it, they account for less than two per cent of the population and that should not be a problem for any government that is willing.

These are the people working but politicians, many of who do not do anything meaningful; earn outrageous amounts of money as salaries and allowances. So, the workers are right to insist on a pay rise.

The naira was much stronger than it is now when the minimum wage was fixed at N18,000.

So, the N30,000 is too meagre but labour still agreed to it and this is the more reason why the government should ensure that it meets the December 1 deadline.

If the labour has graciously accepted N30,000 as the minimum wage, I think the government should not hesitate to pay it. What is even the value of this money we are talking about? What can it buy?

The payment of a fair minimum wage is a policy position that one has to approach with all the seriousness it deserves. On the one hand, paying a fair minimum wage which to be honest; in Nigeria today, ought to be around $267 (N96, N120) in today’s naira would have been a just thing to do in a society led by men who do not appropriate much to themselves. However, the sad reality is that many states in Nigeria may not be able to pay even the N30,000 proposed.

The solution is this: The federal, state, and local governments should form another committee that will include not only the labour union, the organised private sector but also other relevant stakeholders.

This committee’s work should be painstaking and meticulous; the end goal is to come up with a realistic minimum wage that all tiers of government can pay. The thing with setting a realistic minimum wage that everyone can pay is that, it also allows those who want to pay more to do so without doing harm to those who can only pay the agreed minimum wage. Such an agreement arrived at through a rigorous and transparent manner has the highest possibility of being implemented.

In a nutshell, it is clear to everyone concerned that the above suggested process was not adopted during the last exercise. Therefore, the outcome will be difficult to implement. In all honesty, the December 1 deadline will most likely not be met.

The December 1 deadline would have been feasible if the state governors really wanted to pay the N30,000 minimum wage. But there are all indications that the state governors do not want to pay. The labour unions and the state governors have been deliberating on the new minimum wage for over five years now. It is not new.

But the governors know why they have been delaying it and why they have been claiming that they are unable to pay. Some governors believe that apart from oil sector workers, other labour unions do not pose any real threat to their states.

Also, the labour unions and their leaders are not being frank in their negotiations with the state governments. For example, the labour unions have not brought out statistics to disprove the claims by governors that they cannot pay the N30,000 minimum wage. We expect the labour unions to bring out evidence since they are the ones in charge of records of state revenues. Let them show that the governors can afford the N30,000 minimum wage and the controversy over the issue will cease.

Even at the level of the International Labour Organisation, a new wage is premised on the ability to pay. If the state governors are claiming that they are unable to pay, the labour unions must have undeniable evidence to show that the states can pay. Presently, the way the negotiation between government and labour is going has not produced the evidence we want to see.

The issue of minimum wage has always been there but we must look at the issues without sentiments. With the situation on ground in Nigeria today, I don’t think it is practicable for government to pay N30,000 as minimum wage by December this year.

Yes, the Federal Government and three or four states may be able to pay but the majority of the states cannot.

The reason is simple; they are still heavily reliant on what they receive as federal allocations and what they receive as federal allocation depends on the international price of crude oil which is our main foreign exchange earner. Apart from the price of crude in the international market, there is also the issue of whether we are able to sell the quantity of oil we produce.

More importantly, most of our states are still unable to pay the N18,000 minimum wage approved by the previous government before the 2015 elections. Many of these states owe their workers up to six months’ salary not to talk about what they owe their pensioners. We cannot continue to go in circles; it is simply not feasible as December is just a few days away.

Government can’t pay. What the labour unions are not telling Nigerians is the fact that there are incremental payments to be made down the line, it is not just about pegging N30,000 as minimum wage.

The Nigerian government can’t pay because our income is not based on production; we depend largely on oil revenues which are at best unpredictable. Some of the major buyers of our crude oil countries like the United States and India are no longer buying, can we even honestly say we are producing up to 2.2 million barrels of crude oil per day?

How much of it have we been able to get buyers for over the last three years? Labour is simply trying to take advantage of the election period to blackmail government.

I believe that N30,000 as minimum wage is small. If you do not want people to collect money at the gate before they can allow cars to pass, you have to pay them a living wage. There was a time in this country when nobody collected bribes before doing their jobs. Nigerians are people of integrity. But now, people have been so dehumanised because of poverty, the collapse of value and the collapse of institutions that they behave below permissible standards. If you want people to behave well, it is not just about shouting anti-corruption, you must also attack corruption from the roots. One of the reasons why people- especially at the lower levels take tips before they perform their duty is because they are not being paid a living wage. You have to pay a decent wage. For me, even N30, 000 as minimum wage is too small. It is not the government that will create jobs; investors will create jobs and contribute five per cent to an infrastructure fund which will bring in about $3.8tn in 10 years for Nigeria. It is the lack of creativity in the management of the country’s economy that is making it look like government cannot raise the funds to pay N30, 000 or even N50, 000 as minimum wage. When you expand the Gross Domestic Product by dismantling the bottlenecks which hinder investments; the taxes that will be collected by government is so phenomenal that even N50, 000 as minimum wage will not be too difficult for a serious government to pay.

Right now, the minimum wage of Nigeria is one of the lowest in the world. That is because of lack of imagination in the management of the economy. With proper management, government will be in a position to pay.


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