Home OPINION COMMENTARY Minimum Wage, Maximum Troubles For Nigerians, By Yusuf Ozi-Usman

Minimum Wage, Maximum Troubles For Nigerians, By Yusuf Ozi-Usman

The organized labour unions in Nigeria seem to be as confused as the government they are struggling with to get a national minimum wage for the workers.
For the past few weeks, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the two unions representing workers, have been on the neck of the federal government on this issue of minimum wage. The struggle led to one-day nationwide strike on Monday, June 3, throwing the whole country into total darkness and grounding socio-economic activities.
One cannot but sympathize with the unions whose leadership has been made to think in a straightjacketed manner: that the only way for workers to acknowledge that they are working for them to enjoy themselves is through increase in minimum wage. This one-way thinking has for long, become a tradition in unionism in the country, but the lesson that has never been learnt is the outcome which increase in minimum wage always, repeat, always generate.
There is no doubt that the unions are concerned about the nasty situation and conditions under which Nigerian workers operate, earning what can best be described as slave wages, but the issue is that wage increase or minimum wage had, time immemorial, been one of the two sources that always, repeat, always give rise to astronomical rise in prices of food items and other essential things in the markets. Another source is increase in the prices of fuel and other petroleum products.
It is on record that from the very moment President Bola Tinubu announced the cancellation of fuel subsidy when he mounted the leadership last year, May 29, 2023, and the consequence increase in the prices of petroleum products, prices of food items and other essential things virtually shot through the roof. As a matter of fact, so sordid has been the situation that no one goes to the market today without returning home hissing with anger and in frustration.
While on that, the organized unions, innocently as one would want to believe, are courting the second source that usually gives rise to price increase in the markets: minimum wage.
The unions make the whole thing looks as if the minimum wage and salary increase is an end on itself, and is all that is needed to make workers enjoy their take home pay. In fact, this thinking is at total variance with the realities that have made themselves clear, from the point of history.
What economic sense does it make for example, for an average worker to earn, say, N500,000 and it is not enough to keep him for a week? Take for example, before the first phase of the anti-stable food prices, which is fuel price increase, was brought about in May 2023, with the announcement of the subsidy withdrawal, a measure of garri (dried cassava flour – a common staple food used mainly by indigent students) was merely N120, but as at today, the same measure is N1,400 in many markets across the country. Similarly, a measure of beans which was N250 before the coming of fuel price rise is now N2,500. So much have the prices of essential things used by the common people skyrocketed that many people are simply dying slowly with hunger and in want.
In other words, it doesn’t really matter how much an average worker earn so long such earning would guarantee some amount of comfort through cheaper and more affordable essential things of life.
The organized labour unions would do well, in their struggle for better deals for the workers, to include in their negotiations with the government for good living for the workers and Nigerians as a whole, the urgent need to enforce price control, amongst many others welfarist measures.
Yes, Nigeria is operating a free market economy as a police, but it is obvious that it is being blatantly abused by the market forces themselves. There is no country in the world (I stand to be corrected), where certain policies of government are static, even if they are turning into anti-people’s happiness and well-being. Policies are supposed to be flexible and changeable within the context of forces around them.
The unions need to return to the drawing board to come up with tangible ideas, far away from the time-warn wage increase, to assist the government to genuinely make life bearable, not only for the workers who constitute less than one percent of the nation’s population, but the over 250 million country people.
After all, if the minimum wage is jarked up to N500,000 today, the unions would of course, beat chest for astounding accomplishment, but it is only this less than one percent part of Nigerians that would enjoy it, whereas the devastating consequences of such increase would be experienced by all Nigerians. Those are the ones in far-flung villages who don’t even know what is happening, where it is happening and who are making it happen.

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