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Date Published: 04/29/10

MAY 1, 2010         PRESS RELEASE



In the last 25 years or so, the state of the Nigerian worker has deteriorated considerably. We are therefore using this auspicious day in all of its symbolism to arouse the conscience of this Nation and, to raise national and global consciousness on the pitiable plight of the Nigerian Worker, as well as, demand for improved conditions of service and an acceptable living wage for the Nigerian people in line with Section 14, Subsection 2b of the 1999 Constitution which states that: “The Security and Welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

That the condition of the Nigerian worker has worsened overtime is no longer an issue. The issue is that we all know Nigeria have the required resources to turn around the situation. So the question isn’t about the glaring poverty and shameful state of the Nigerian worker. The real question (And that is the question on the lips of many a Nigerian today) is whether the government has the will and the genuine desire to effect the desired change. We believe the government does have the capacity, and we can all therefore make the government do what it is supposed to do; we must not yield to a politic of despair.

A look at the global statistics of wages reveals that Nigeria has one of the lowest wage or salary rate. The average annual income per person in Nigeria is around $400 or N66, 000. If the income of the fabulously rich is removed, the average will be as low as N15, 000 per person annually. This amount is not enough in a month to cater for the needs of a single individual not to mention a family of four.

Nigeria is also rated for this reason to be among the poorest of nations. This disgraceful condition of widespread poverty amidst a vast ocean of material prosperity breeds frustration and corroding anger and hatred from the impoverish sections of the populace. This accounts for the insensitivity and high incidence of crime in our society today.

It is also why there is an upsurge in Child Labour-all over the streets and roads of Nigeria are children who are supposed to be in school either working as Commercial Bus Conductors or hawking and selling all kind of goods, to help augment the upkeep of their families. Every court of jurisprudence will rise up against this and yet this is what our nation has done to our children, because it treats its workers no less than animals. It is a contravention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention, No. 138 and 182 which frown seriously at all forms of Child Labour, and which all member countries are obliged to respect whether or not they have ratified them.

Work as defined by the ILO’s vision of decent work is central to people’s well-being. In addition to providing income, work can pave the way for broader social and economic advancement, strengthening individuals, their families and communities. Such progress, however, hinges on work that is decent. Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. But the sad truth is that the working condition and annual income per person in our country is so dehumanising, it doesn’t even meet a tenth of this vision.

This is so especially when benchmarked with standards in other parts of the world. In South Korea for instance, the average annual income per person is over $10,000 or N1.6m. in the United States of America, Great Britain, Japan, South Africa, Canada and Sweden, the figure is as high as $15,000 or N2.4m or even more.

The wages of the average Nigerian is of no use and can’t even take him home. Indeed it is only a peanut that can barely meet the one month transportation needs of a working class single in Lagos. For instance, the BRT scheme of the Lagos State Government costs as high as N300 to and fro the Mainland and the Island daily. This amount adds up to N9, 000 per month. This is only transportation cost alone. Other basic needs such as feeding, clothing and shelter are not there.

In the last ten years, inflation has been on the rise. Inflationary pressures have built up since 2006, in particular because of soaring food and oil prices, and recently the infamous banking reforms in our country. Average wages lagged behind the growth in GDP per capita, which is an indication that increases in productivity, has failed to translate fully into higher wages. In this country, there has been no review of the minimum wage since 1999, even though the prices of all essential commodities have skyrocketed. The prices of food commodities especially cereals such as wheat and rice have more than tripled and it may likely continue. The price of fuel which is a major determinant in the prices of foodstuff and transportation cost have equally increased with about 400% from N20 to N70 and more. And yet there has been no commensurate increase in wages. In fact, there have been none.

In other nations, the reverse has been the case. According to the ILO Global Wage Report 2008/2009, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turk-menistan, and Uzbekistan, displayed some of the best record, achieving annual wage growth rates higher than 10%. Another example is China, where real wages grew on average about 11% per year thanks to it double digit growth economy. Among developed countries, wages in the median country grew by about 0.9% per year. Comparative figures were 0.3% in Latin America and the Caribbean and 1.8% in Asia.

Nigerian Labour and Civil Societies have continued to decry this ugly trend and have been calling for an upward review of the minimum wage; the latest being the agitation for a N52,000 minimum wage per month as against the current N5,500 but the government hasn’t considered it worthwhile to do something about.

The ILO defines a minimum change as a wage which provides a floor to the wage structure in order to protect workers at the bottom of the wage distribution. Minimum wages are a nearly universal policy instrument-they are applied in more than 90% of ILO member States. However, the level at which minimum wages are set varies between countries, as do the rate and frequency at which they are updated. Between 2001 and 2007 on average, most nations increased their minimum wage by 5.7% in real terms. Most developing nations are also increasingly up-rating their minimum wage to provide social protection to vulnerable and un-organised categories of workers. Regional powers such as Brazil, China and South Africa with the exception of Nigeria are among the main drivers of this upward trend. In China, for instance, new regulations on minimum wages were issued in the face of growing concerns about increasing wage inequality. In Argentina and Brazil, minimum wage policies were revitalised to help reverse the decline in the wages of low-paid workers. And in South Africa, wage floors were introduced in 2002 to support the wages of millions of low paid-paid workers in different economic sectors.

In Nigeria, the minimum wage is so deplorable and an insult to the collective psyche of the Nigerian people. Add to that is the contrasting developments in collective bargaining coverage-the police, armed forces and workers in the informal economy for instance are not eligible to bargain collectively.

Multinationals and foreign-owned companies, including local ones cash in on these lapses to under-value, under-price and short-sell the Nigerian worker. This is not acceptable and we condemn it in the strongest terms.

Against this backdrop therefore, we call on our government today, to as a matter of urgency, increase the minimum wage from the paltry sum it is now to a reasonable level as the N52,000 being agitated for by Organised Labour is not even a good skirmish against poverty. And let’s not allow the government to tell us the resources are not there. The government for the past one year has been dilly-dallying on this issue setting up panel after panel to negotiate with workers Unions’, yet nothing has been done; it has been mere cheap talk. Government at all levels has been unresponsive to workers plight. Even the so-called Action Governor in Lagos State said few weeks ago, that he doesn’t believe in the agitation for wage increase, and that wage increase will not help the Nigerian worker; that infrastructural development only is the key. That was a lie from the pit of hell; a lie told so often, that it is now being believed in some circles. But the fact remains that infrastructural development is not an end in itself; it is only a means to an end. Better working condition is a must have for Nigerian workers, and indeed workers throughout the world. The Acting President this week just made another promise of wage increase against the background of today; Labour Day. But government must do more than just talk. It must translate on this day, and in the days ahead, its words into concrete action. We have more than enough in this nation to guarantee a living wage. God Almighty has blessed us with abundant human and natural resources; and we all know that!

This day, the federal government is spending over $4bn for security in the Niger Delta alone. That is wasteful spending. Just use some of these monies to re-vitalise the numerous shut-down industries all over the country, and re-absorb the retrenched workers, then invest in more industries to generate millions of jobs for the restive militants, pay them and, every other working Nigerian decent wages and provide the needed infrastructure, and there won’t be any need for militancy and kidnapping anymore.

And as we press for these demands, let’s not yield to despair. We cannot afford to relax and stand idly by while the state of our people continues to degenerate. Let’s keep up faith and maintain hope until the cause of justice and freedom for all of God’s Children in this nation and in the entire world prevails.

May God bless and perfect the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Comrade Eneruvie Enakoko      

  (CLO Chairman in Lagos)     

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