Living or minimum wage?

What Nigerians need is living, not minimum wage. Only that will make their lives more meaningful. They don’t need wages that will minimise life’s worth.

Tony Iwuoma

After months of waiting, Nigerian workers declared industrial action on Thursday, September 27, to press the government to increase the National Minimum Wage. Of course, increased pay for workers is salutary, desirable and motivating.

However, much as I agree that the lot of Nigerian workers is parlous, I am not sure whether this agitation is the right approach.

Of course, I do know that the highest paid workers in Nigeria are politicians and I think that, for Nigerian workers to flourish, only people who can accept the pain of earning peanuts, sorry of … should participate in a strike action. Sounds familiar?

In fact, the realisation of this Freudian ‘tongue of slip’ has made our erstwhile labour leaders to abandon us and now treat us like pariah, having been smart to apprehend that all the time they were picketing Chevron and Shell, there were far more silent money minting organisations in town. They have learned the tricks and language of oppressors.

Be that as it may, I am not comfortable with merely agitating for minimum wage. It seems that we’re in for the converse of what we are agitating, which is maximum pain.

The immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration was forced to increase the then minimum wage to N18,000 prior to elections in 2011. It remains to be seen whether that wage increment solved our problem or compounded it.

Now again, on the verge of another election, we want to arm-twist the government to remarkably jerk up the minimum wage without counting the cost, bearing in mind the implications of our last experience.

The government is actually uncharacteristically being kind in delaying this matter. They could easily give in to us and allow us to wallow in our pain thereafter. After all, they have no portion in it.

The politicians are having a ball, rolling in cash, even collecting sitting and wardrobe allowances. They could choose to collect standing or walking allowance and even toilet allowance at our expense. You see, they are far removed from the backlash of our ill considered agitation. That is why there is mirth on their lips, sort of saying, dis mumu sef, dem no know wetin dem dey ask.

Indeed, we are mumu but e nefa do us. We are merely creating avenue for politicians to inflict more pain on us. After the last wage increase, how much of it was paid? Even when President Muhammadu Buhari graciously approved bailouts for the states to pay the arrears of unpaid salaries, did the governors comply or added the fund to their burgeoning loot?

The minimum wage is not actually minimum as it will be worked out to affect even the top cadre of employees. What this means is that the wage bill of government will increase astronomically, which means that greater part of revenue as presently done will still be deployed to payment of salaries, leaving little or nothing for infrastructural development. That is why any governor that pays salaries gloats shamelessly and is celebrated to have done a big thing. How comically strange!

The Nigerian worker is being misled by his leaders, who capitalise on the visibility foisted on them by the ostensible agitation for workers’ good to catapult to fame and power. Where are the Adams Oshiomholes today? Since he graduated to the ‘truly working class of Nigerians’ and cleaning out big time, how much positive impact has he made on the life of Nigerian workers, even under his watch, as governor? Now he is national chairman of the ruling party, has any kind word ensued from his mouth for the suffering masses? Why should labour leaders whose bread is already buttered pretentiously lead workers astray and, by the way, who are these workers, how many are they? Why must market men and women be kept away from their daily subsistence endeavours?

From past experiences, which strike effort has succeeded in this country? Majority of Nigerians depend on daily income to survive and keeping them away from it is unfair and evil; that is why after two or three days of staying indoors, if at all they comply, they will be back at their beats, plying their trades.

Labour should redirect their efforts towards plugging the leakages that have make governance ineffective. They should train the workforce to be dedicated and productive instead of playing pranks and truancy. Only lawbreakers, sorry, lawmakers, reap where they did not sow by collecting sitting allowance, as if they are doing us a favour for doing the job they were (s)elected to do; wardrobe allowance as if the clerk in their office comes to work naked.

Labour leaders should declare strike to compel debtor states and agencies to pay up rather than increasing the wage burden. They should, for instance, be confronting the Niger Delta governors to account for the collect 13% derivation fund they have been collecting for so long now. Labour should shut down the National Assembly and picket it until they reduce their bumper, undeserved and unjustified salaries. Money is actually in the system but in few hands that know how to manipulate the system. That should be of interest to labour leaders, not to heat up the polity and worsen our plight.

The states are often hamstrung and overwhelmed by huge wage burden. Also, the centre has an unfair cut of the revenue sharing formula and, like the country, ought to be restructured.

What we need is not bumper salary that will cause inflation and eventually wipe out the seeming gain. Government should strive to make the country conducive for investors, provide infrastructure, collect more revenue and boost GDP beyond the present status and give the naira a little punch to make it competitive in the foreign exchange market instead of grovelling on the floor like an abandoned orphan.

Government should make the anti-corruption war real and plough back recovered loot to fruitful ventures to refire the economy. It should create employment opportunities and stop promoting underemployment through the useless Npower programme that pays disgraceful N30,000 to university graduates monthly, even when they don’t give double that amount to their own children and wards as pocket money. Asking graduates to take up farming is good but modern tools must be provided to make it attractive.

Labour leaders should be reasonable in their demands. The minimum wage has potential of creating inflation and job losses. It could stagnate national growth too, as government would now use all available revenue to settle huge wage bill.

READ ALSO: Wrap up the minimum wage talks

What Nigerians really need is living, not minimum wage. Only that will make their lives more meaningful. They don’t need wages that will ultimately minimise life’s worth. If what use is bumper salary that’s not paid or that cannot last for a week due to inflationary trend?

The post Living or minimum wage? appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.

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