AFTER a long drawn battle, the organised labour suspended its proposed mass action over the demand for a N30,000 minimum wage as President Muhammadu Buhari warmly received the report of the Tripartite Committee of the National Minimum Wage. Even if the Federal Government accepted the offer as assumed, it has to follow due process particularly legislative actions to become effective. Obviously, Nigerian workers deserve improved package far above the existing N18,000. Whilst the heat was temporarily put under control, the Academic Staff Union of Universities grounded academic activities by embarking on a strike action. All clamouring for one thing: improved workers’ welfare.
Although the proposed increment is justifiable, it goes beyond the justifiability but anchors essentially on the sustainability of the demands. The reason is simple. Many state governments still struggle to pay their workforce on the existing rate as and when due. The looming danger if adequate preventative measures are not put in place is that downsizing of the workforce is imminent. In other words, as the negotiations continue between the government, organised labour and private sector alongside ASUU, the resources for implementing the new wage structure should also extensively be given premium consideration.
Regrettably, the labour unions over the years have remained weak and self-centred when it comes to general issues. Labour unions are never bothered about odd developments in the polity as their counterparts from other nations do. For example, each of the 109 senators in the Senate merrily cruises home with outrageous N13.5m monthly running cost aside from salaries and phantom constituency projects annually budgeted at N200 million that are never accounted for since 1999. Ditto at the House of Representatives with 360 members. Yet, the labour unions remained unperturbed but continually clamour for commensurable welfare packages.
It is expected that by the acclaimed comradeship amongst labour unions, the first action point would be to fight against sundry aberrations that have been crippling the economy especially the jumbo allowances federal lawmakers allocated to themselves. It cannot be a battle for the executive alone. Labour unions especially Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and host of others shouldn’t only heat up the polity exclusively for their workers’ welfare but must doggedly fight for the nation knowing that the executive may not utterly check excesses in the legislative arm without fracas.
No doubt, workers have always been victims of the syndrome of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. However, it is one thing to compellingly make demands and another to sustainably implement them accordingly. It therefore amounts to naivety for the organised labour to be determined over increment without first joining hands to end waste and leakages to fund the new wage regimen. Until something remarkable is done to the bicameral legislature that Nigeria hurriedly copied from developed nations, wastage will continue at the detriment of economic progression and workers’ welfare.
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The bogus monthly allocations to the National Assembly can go a long way in boosting allocations to state governments to meet up with whatever proposed increment. Otherwise, the labour unions may endlessly be signing agreements or remaining in queues for mass actions over improved workers’ welfare.
The legislative arm has for years unquestionably become a drain pipe to the economy and therefore needs collaborative actions to overcome. This accounts for the overzealousness of lawmakers making the chamber their permanent abode. Obviously, labour unions should sit up; be patriotic and resourceful in the Nigerian project. To always turn deaf ears to the abnormities in the society at large but only become strong, resolutely determined to fight for its members’ welfare is the height of egocentrism. As action groups, labour unions can fight for the welfare of the entire society knowing that good policies affect and improve the standard of living of all citizens; workers inclusive. In other societies, labour unions remarkably serve as the voice of the voiceless. Hence, let organised labour for once show concern in general issues in the society.
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Labour can prioritise broad issues first in the society. That is patriotism. “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that, no man is entitled to, and less than that no man shall have.”