A former Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Kwara State Council, Emmanuel Ayeoribe says labour will paralyse activities in states that are not ready to implement the new minimum wage and negotiate the consequential adjustment. He spoke to COLLINS OLAYINKA.
WHAT do you make of the Governors’ Forum claims that they are not bound by the outcome of the negotiations on minimum wage between labour and the Federal Government?
I think the argument of the Governors’ Forum is a misplaced one; misplaced in the sense that when it comes to workers’ salaries, we tend towards federalism, but on other issues we erode that philosophy. It is either we adopt federalism wholeheartedly, or we jettison it. The governors cannot in one breadth proclaim federalism when it favours them, but shift away as soon as the situation does not favour them.
Moreso, the issue of salary is on the Concurrent List, it is not what only states can determine. As far as I am concerned, there is no way they can run away from it. The other flip side of the matter is that if it was on the political side, whatever politicians in Sokoto, Yobe or Jigawa states earn, is the same thing that politicians in Lagos, Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta states would earn. On that front, there is no controversy, but whenever it concerns what workers have to take home, unheard grammar will begin to emerge from the political class. There is no federalism in what the political class earns, but there is federalism in what workers earn. This is the joke that Nigeria has been living in for decades.
The economy of Nigeria is more of the workers-based economy. Let me give an example of the non-payment of salaries in the states. When the Kogi State government did not pay salaries, we all saw the cries everywhere because there was no money in circulation. To beef up the economy of any state, good wages must be paid to the workers. So, the argument is misplaced and borne out of insincerity of purpose.
We have never been sincere about how federalism should operate in our country. Therefore, if any state is not ready to go into negotiation on the consequential adjustment, labour should get set to fight it out. We all remember that during the last general elections, virtually all the gubernatorial candidates promised to implement the minimum wage if they were elected. So, why is this sudden realisation that they cannot pay. Didn’t they know what their states had before seeking elective offices?
For me, there is no two way to this. We must fight it out. This is not a new development; it has always been a reoccurring decimal. I think that by now, we would have learnt our lessons and stop dissipating our energy on issues that are inconsequential. We should focus on more critical issues of development.
Minimum wage should not be an issue that will occupy our time for so long a period to the level of forcing us to relegate other things to the background. We should place minimum wage in the proper place that we ought to. There are many things that better wages will cure; it will improve productivity and reduce corruption to the barest minimum. Why won’t there be corruption in governance process when workers are poorly paid? A bag of rice today is more than N25, 000 amid a minimum wage of N30, 000. Won’t workers eat anything other than rice? There is no money for stew or other essential food items; payment of house rent; payment of children school fees and transport fare to places of work. Even that meagre N30, 000 is under threat. What sort of system are we running in this country? Is there justice in a system like this?
In decent economies, what they do is to adjust salaries based on some economic parameters and realities. While our agreement in 2011 said that the minimum wage law would be reviewed every five years, it took us more than four years to get this underway and now no one knows when the implementation will begin, especially at the states’ level.
I learnt that some state governors are saying they will adjust N18, 000 and not engage in fresh negotiation. How can that happen in a country where there are laws? So, for me, if any governor is not ready to implement the new national wage, such a governor should await the fury of the organised labour movement. Such a struggle at this point is going to be a very long battle that may destroy some of the governors if care is not taken.
Has the process of negotiation of consequential adjustment begun in Kwara State?
I can say that there is nothing on the ground in Kwara State as far as the minimum wage implementation is concerned.
So the state councils of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have not put any plan in place to begin the process?
I don’t think it is labour that is delaying the process. I think it is the government that is foot-dragging on the issue. Since the governor came on board, I don’t think he has made any effort to meet with the organised labour in the state. While I don’t know exactly what is responsible for its inability to meet, I am sure he has not met with them.
Has labour made overtures to the governor requesting a meeting?
Certainly. Labour indeed tried to meet with him, but I think all those efforts were deliberately frustrated.
Is labour helpless in Kwara State?
No. How can labour be helpless? No, we are not at all. Labour will react appropriately at the right time. On an issue like this, we await the directive of the national leadership of the NLC. The Joint negotiating council met state councils last week in Abuja. From there, copies of the tabulated figures of the consequential adjustment, as agreed upon by the national joint council was made available to the states, and they were given directive on what to do next.
Normally, state councils do not take decisions without the approval of the national leadership. The role of the NLC is to lead the struggle for minimum wage and then the joint negotiation council will then fight for its own. That is the stage we are now.
The two labour centres come into the fray when the state councils hit a brick wall.