WORKERS PROTEST GOVERNMENT’S ASSAULT ON MINIMUM WAGE LAW
Introduction: On Wednesday, 10th March 2020, Workers across Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) heeded the call of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to protest the plans of state governments to undermine the country unified minimum wage laws.
Although the decision of the NEC of NLC to declare a warning strike was hardly implemented, yet labour was in a show of force that would surely send shivers down the spine of Nigeria’s capitalist politicians. The immediate effect of the strike became manifest two days later when the federal federal government quickly denounced another federal agency that ordered an increase in the price of petrol (PMS) hours earlier. The federal government cited ongoing discussion with labour as the basis for the sudden reversal. No doubt the Wednesday protest earned the labour bureaucracy some value with the capitalist politicians, who only saw a fraction of labour’s strength.
But the labour bureaucracy also has to draw important lessons from the anger on display at the protest grounds; it was an anger that can be directed at the bureaucracy in the coming period if it keeps holding the working class down in the face of unprecedented hardship and economic crisis. Even though the protest was ostensibly against the plans to give governors unbridled control over the determination of minimum wages in their respective states, workers still independently raised slogans about broader economic issues like the high cost of fuel and electricity, inflation and even for renationalisation of the power industry.
Members of the MSA intervened in five states: Lagos; Abuja; Osun; Ogun; and Edo – in solidarity with the working class in their struggle against further impoverishment. 57 copies of SOLIDARITY, the paper of the MSA, were sold altogether. Below are reports from the Comrades who intervened at these protest grounds in Lagos, Abuja and Osun.
LAGOS, Davy Fidel
The affiliate-unions of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) came out in their hundreds, to protest the government’s recent plan to remove minimum wage from the exclusive list in Nigeria to the Concurrent legislative list, thereby destroying the regime of a single minimum wage in the country. Leaders of the NLC and TUC Lagos chapter mobilised their members to join in the protest march.
The protest kicked off at Ikeja Underbridge at 8:30 am and saw a large number of workers, who believed that not coming out to protest, the capitalist politicians of the Buhari government will carry on suffering the working people.
Before the protest kicked off, leaders of both NLC and TUC (Lagos Branches) addressed workers, raising the issues that warranted the NEC’s decision to declare a warning strike. Funmi Agnes Sessi, Chairperson of NLC, Lagos Branch, frowned at the government’s plan to remove minimum wage from the exclusive list, which was legislated in 1981. She strongly condemned the regime. Trade union leaders and leaders of broad-left platforms, like the secretary of JAF, Abiodun Aremu, also took turns to address workers in unanimous condemnation of the government’s plans to rubbish workers’ income in Nigeria.
Workers marched the 3km between Ikeja Underbridge and Alausa Secretariat to submit their protest letter to the Lagos House of Assembly. All through, it was a carnival of placards, with bold inscriptions such as: Nigeria Not for Sale. Discos are Fraud! Reverse the Power Privatization; Stop the Importation of Petrol! Revive the Refineries; Reduce the Cost of Governance Now! Save the Masses from Poverty and Hunger; Stop Poverty and Hunger. Reverse the Fuel Price Increase Now; Stop the Looting! Tax the Rich and Subsidise the Poor
Workers also clamoured that removing the minimum wage from the exclusive list won’t guarantee the payment of owed salaries, contrary to the lies of the governors that a “pay-as-you-like” minimum wage will end the era of unpaid minimum wages. More than 18 state governments are yet to pay the paltry N30, 000 ($79USD) minimum wage, and all the while, state governors are never owed the huge and undeserved wages they take home each month. It is not the cost of the little N30, 000 minimum wage that is behind this latest attempt to undermine the law entirely; it is the instinct of capitalist politicians to steal and help big businesses to cheat workers of their deserved wages that is on display here.
Meanwhile, leaders of the March 10 protest, when addressing lawmakers at the State House of Assembly Complex, made it clear that workers will not accept the destruction of the unified minimum wage law. It was clearly stated that all public officers should be placed on the salary of the working class if they are not ready to implement policies that will improve the living conditions of people.
MSA members were fully on the ground to agitate with workers with the Jan/Feb 2021 publication of the organisation. 15 papers were sold at the Lagos protest.
ABUJA, Dimeji Macaulay
About five thousand workers (from different trade unions) and socialist activists gathered at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, to march to the National Assembly to submit a letter jointly signed by the two labour centres, the NLC and TUC in opposition to plans in the National Assembly to move minimum wage from federal law to concurrent laws that can be made by both federal and state assemblies.
The protest lasted for about four hours. During the protest, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Mr Ayuba Wahaba in his speech to workers said the protest was meant to reject the removal of minimum wage from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List. He said the minimum wage is a matter of human rights and is obtainable anywhere in the world. He called on the National Assembly to end the anti-workers bill immediately.
Dr Dipo Fashina (JINGO), the Chairperson of Joint Action Front (JAF), while addressing the rally said “As I have always said, there’s need for workers to take political power and control the economy; they (workers) are even supposed to be the ones designing what politicians should earn, not politicians approving what workers will be earning. Nigeria has enough resources to pay a living wage to every worker…”.
President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Ayuba Quadri, while speaking at the National Assembly said that if they tried to put minimum wage on Concurrent List workers will be earning local government salary from 2023, given the antecedents of the governors when there was a federal minimum wage. The rally ended at the National Assembly with the submission of a protest letter by the Trade Union leaders. Members of the MSA participated in the protest and sold fourteen copies of the SOLIDARITY.
OSUN, Seyi Atoyebi
Unions like NLC, TUC, ULC, NUEE, NUT and other unions joined the protest which kicked off at Ogooluwa, Osogbo. Workers marched down to the State House of Assembly in their hundreds to express their displeasure with the plan of the National Assembly to destroy the minimum wage law.
Workers and leaders of unions engaged members displaying our paper at the protest ground, giving reasons why the protest may not be taken seriously by politicians if it was just a one-off thing. Discussion on how to use the present situation to tackle backlog arrears of wages incurred by the state over the years also broke out.
The labour leadership at the Assembly Complex told the Speaker of the House that if the present N30, 000 minimum wage is not implemented in the state, the working class will not support the current administration in the forthcoming election, where the governor will stand as a candidate for re-election. Though workers complained that their leaders were not assertive enough and shouldn’t have begged for their right under the law with a promise to re-elect the governor.
8 copies of SOLIDARITY were sold at the protest by members of the MSA that participated.