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Minimum wage: Opinions divided as strike begins today

By Fatima Muraina, Sade Adewale & Michael Ofulue

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Opinions are sharply divided on the proprietary or otherwise of an indefinite nationwide strike set to begin today by workers across the country.

The strike is at the instance of the Nigeria Labour. Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, over the new minimum wage.

Some believe there is need for living wage for workers going by the current economic hardship in the country, while others argued that the new wage will aggravate the current inflation, and make prices of commodities more skyrocketed.

Rather, some stakeholders called on government at all levels to support massive food production as a way of reducing prices of food items.

Speaking with The Hope on Sunday, the Ondo State Chairman, Nigeria Trade Union Congress, TUC, Comrade Clement Fatuase, the Chairman of Nigeria Association of Small Scale Industrialists, Mr. Great Seyi Akintunde, and the Ondo State President of Farmers Congress who is also the State Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria  (AFAN) Mr Abayomi Monilari, described the new minimum wage being demanded by organised labour as the best way to relieve workers of the present hardship being experienced following the global economic crisis.

They appealed to government to find a way of accommodating the demands of the labour unions having failed in other areas like giving necessary support for massive food production and controlling the prices of goods and services which keep skyrocketing by the day.

Fatuase said workers deserve new living wage to meet the current economic realities in the country, adding that the organised labour asking for a living wage for workers know better.

“All those people are well grounded labour leaders with vast experience about the economy, social political activities in all countries of the world. So, if that is not what they should ask for they won’t ask for it at this critical time. They are all human beings, they have blood and flesh and they feel the pulse of the community, ” the TUC Chairman stated.

 Akintunde said, “If government is able to increase fuel from N185 per liter to N740, If civil servants are now asking that their salaries should be increased to be able to meet with the economic hardship, I think they are not asking for too much.

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“‘Nigerians have suffered enough.

Will you advise them to keep suffering or reduce suffering. The advice will be specifically to government and those in authority, they should look at the plight of the people and ameliorate their suffering not waiting until the people decide to take laws into their hands.”

Also, Monilari called in government to do the needful and listen to the yearnings of the civil servants because the little they take home is not enough for transportation alone, not to talk of feeding.

“When there is rise in inflation the civil servants are at the receiving end because all businessmen will adjust whatever they sell. I, as a businessman, whatever I spend on production is what I’m going to base my sense upon, so most of the time the workers are at the receiving end,” he added.

However, the former Accountant General of the Federation, Dr. James Naiyeju and a renowned Economist, Mr Fessy Olabode, kicked against the clamour for new minimum wage which they said will only lead to more calamity than expectation.

Dr Naiyeju noted that the nation’s problem is not minimum wage but how to get the economy strengthened, saying the new minimum wage will damage the economy, and the private sector may not be able to pay, and it will also lead to retrenchment of workers which will compound the economy.

According to him, government has started many good economic measures which when implemented things will began to have a better shape and position, noting that most of the measures being put in place  by the government will bring down the cost of living in the country.

Also, Olabode advised that labour should have looked for a way of ensuring that their purchasing power is enhanced by making prices of goods come down through investment in production.

“The society, labour union and everybody should face agriculture now massively. Let’s face those ones that can come out in the next 90 days like maize. If the government is serious and we all face it squarely, in the next 100-120 days food will be surplus and the price will go down,” he explained.

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He said Labour should have clamoured for government to go back to agricultural production and also improve security on the farm lands.

“Increase the security and make sure that there is no more kidnapping. If that one is put aside people can easily go to the farm to produce. If we target production of crops that mature between 90-100 days it means in three months time, each state will come out and say we are facing massive production of maize, rice and so on,  and they have the mechanization approach and each state now has about 100 hectares. We have people outside that are ready to work if they are paid and put the tools there.”

While saying that every state government in Nigeria is receiving monthly allocation three times more than what they were receiving before, Olabode said Labour should intensify efforts to make government spend such money on massive food production, going into mechanized farming to eradicate the present hardship and not clamouring for increase in minimum wage which will later collapse the country.

Meanwhile, some stakeholders have warned that workers in private sector may suffer job losses, as companies confront shrinking profit margins and uncertain futures.

Already, not many private employers are paying their employees the current N30, 000 minimum wage. Worst hit are teachers in private schools who are earning as low as N15,000 to N25,000, depending on the standard of the schools.

The Hope gathered that many of these private schools are charging exorbitant tuition fees from parents, but they treat their staff like slaves.

Speaking with our correspondent, Comrade Olowu Emmanuel, the state Chairman, Committee for Defence of Human Rights said private organisations will find it difficult to pay their workers the new minimum wage being proposed by organised labour leaders.

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Olowu hinted that subsidy removal has led to a significant increase in the cost of transportation, food, and other essential items, saying “the fate of private sector workers, including teachers, hangs in the balance as their employers may not be able to afford the new minimum wage. Many private employers are already struggling to stay afloat due to the economic challenges facing the country, and increasing the minimum wage may lead to job losses.

A private worker, Mr Olumide Adekunle, expressed fear that many private employers which cannot pay the new minimum wage may be forced to downsize or close down, explaining that, it would have been better the Government and Labour seek a way of addressing the rising cost of living in the country rather than constant agitation for salary increase.

Also speaking, Elizabeth Ogochukwu, a business woman disclosed that unless the Federal Government controls market prices of food items, building materials and other essential things, increment in salary will be of no effect because the purchasing powers will still be low.

A private school teacher, Mrs. Amope Oluwanimbe, said some private workers cannot afford to eat three times a day because the price of food items has now tripled in the last one year, adding that she has been skipping meals to make ends meet.

Also speaking, Olufemi Ajayi said the situation of the country is pushing people to the wall, stating that increasing hike in prices of commodities have made the matter worse.

A former Majority Leader, Ondo State House of Assembly, Ifedayo Akinsoyinu, threw his weight behind living wage for workers in the country,  saying, “I have always canvased for a living wage: Minimum wage cannot get Nigerian workers anywhere. Living wage will enable Nigerian workers live like normal human beings.

“It is called living wage, because with it, one can buy enough essential commodities.The essential component of living wage, is a drastic downward review of prices of essential commodities. For example, a living wage of N50, 000, when a bag of rice is N10,000, is better than a minimum wage of N100, 000 when a bag of rice is N90,000”, he noted.

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