Yes, it is the wage issue. The Minimum Wage is simply the lowest amount of payment to be paid to workers in the Civil Service. Wages are usually counted based on either a weekly or daily basis. In Nigeria, the Minimum Wage is however accumulated into a whole lump and given at the end of the month as salary. To understand the wage ratio though, one can simply divide the final lump sum given at the end of the month by the traditional twenty-three working days of every month (which excludes weekends). The Minimum Wage usually affects the private sector too with organisations having to raise their salaries to the basic minimum. This is in theory basically, as many organisations do not have the wherewithal to fulfil such obligations or do not feel obliged to do so due to whatever reasons.
The facts are simple and plain: the wage packet is not enough to take the worker home or parroting the common saying, our ‘take home’ can’t take us home. Therefore, there has been continual agitations that the money be increased from days past. And has the money increased? Sure in many places rising steadily from the single Naira rates of past years to the current Eighteen Thousand Naira slammed now.
Well, to the joy of many the minimum wage bill was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan which meant the minimal payment of Eighteen thousand naira to Federal civil servants. While several people tried to cry out that the increment was big, others called upon them to look at the amount properly by looking at it at the daily equivalent; approximately Seven Hundred and Eighty-Three Naira to each worker per day. Still, not so impressive considering transportation costs of these workers, their daily feeding, meeting of their several needs, payment of bills and several other things. Still, it was far better than the former wage bills.
This increment was meant to be mirrored across the various government civil service (state and local).
Since the Eighteen Thousand Naira approved minimum wage, there have been various reactions and counter-reactions. Some people feel that it is genuine for the pay to be so while others (especially those who implement) have raised cries. Benue State stands out as a big example where there have been some issues of wage increment implementation. In a state that is largely civil service oriented, it is only to be expected. An increase would lead to better lives for the people as they would have a higher spending power. This would account for the uprising and industrial action of workers in the state over a non-implementation of rates.
One fully understands the position of Labour who must naturally cater to the needs of workers and ensure that things work right to their favour. One understands also the clamour for salaries that would help the ordinary worker meet needs in an increasingly difficult country.
But there is the position of the work being done by these workers. Karl Maier in his This House has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis says that ‘the government spends up to half of its annual budget on salaries…yet the civil service remains civilised).
This calls for serious concern. WE should start to think deep and hard. What should really be our concern? Should we all simply concentrate on more wage increment?
The view of the government is that people shouldn’t castigate but with a civil service where people clamour for increase in wages everyday but are not ready to up their services, very sadly. One might also find some truth in the continual government excuse that an increased salary would make most people to become redundant or relaxed. Or that increased salaries would bring added burden to the money brought in from the top that is meant to take care of developmental projects too.
The first reaction of workers to the wage increment was that of joy and gladness. Naturally, market prices of products skyrocketed. On the part of most of the state governments over the wage increment was some fear. With most of them relying on Federal Government revenue, this meant more money was to be spent on salaries and less on projects. Governor Gabriel Suswam in several interviews cried over this and said that it would be difficult to implement the increment; “We are going to pay. We will probably hold our final meeting after this with the Nigerian Labour Congress to agree on the modalities. But then like I have kept saying, the civil servants are the ones that handle the monies that come in and in a month, on the average, we take N2billion. Yes, we take N2.2 or N2.5 billion at times. In a month that we have only N2billion, it then means that all the monies will be consumed on recurrent expenditure and we will be running like local government and I don’t think anybody would want that.
You would start accusing me of not developing the state. Would I cut my fingers to develop the state? It is the money that comes into the state that I use in developing the state. And the total population of civil service in Benue is about 21,000. If you put the local government, it’s about 89,000 out of the population of 4.5 million people. So, should we allow 89,000 people which does not constitute one per cent of the total population, consume the total money meant for Benue? I just want us to be realistic about this. We are talking about projects.”
Before any implementation was done though, there was the famous warning strike by Labour that was meant to take full effect on 29th September 2011. It was meant to be a three day strike but was called off on the midnight of 28th. Many workers were annoyed with the way that things were being handled by the Nigerian Labour Congress in confronting government over the implementation of their increment. This led to a vote of no confidence letter written by one hundred and seventy-seven (177) members from across the state in the leadership of the State Chairman, Comrade Simon Anchaver. There was also an accusation that Anchaver had collected fifty million naira as bribe from the state government. The Chairman quickly denied the accusations and said he was working on getting the best salary chart for Benue workers. He further said that the vote of no confidence on him was illegal since the only organ that could pass a vote of no confidence on him was the group of thirty-seven (37) Chairmen of unions that formed the NLC in the state.
The National Leadership of the NLC affirmed the mandate of Anchaver in a visit to the state Governor. The NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar, represented by the Head of International Relations and Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Uchenna Ekwe, explained that the NLC “gave a directive on how the negotiation should go and after seeing the agreement signed in Benue State we at the national level are satisfied with it. In fact, we are very proud of the Benue state council under Simon Anchaver for what they were able to negotiate and get for the workers because we are in a position to know what other states that have signed the agreement and I can tell you that Benue ranks among the best.”
But by this time, it seemed the pressure had gotten to the government as the Secretary to the Benue State Government, Dr. David Salifu announced that government had reached agreements with the NLC and would commence payment of the wage increment by November 30th 2011. This, he said was to enable effective legislation in the state to sustain the wage increment. He also said that the seeming disparity that had been created by the wage increment had been sorted in a new salary chart that catered to Grade Levels 1-17.
November 30th seemed a long time but the workers had to grudgingly accept it, hoping that by that time, they would also receive arrears of past salaries that had been neglected.
There are some workers who really do not know what their pay packet is going to be next due to the restructuring but sure are hoping to get something that would really get them home at the end of the month. With talks of payments of arrears too, there seem to be eagerness. While this is a great development, there is every need for the workers to increase their input to work and reduce their lackadaisical attitude to work. After all, to whom much is given, isn’t much expected?
Governor Gabriel Suswam while accepting the wage increment said that an audit would be done. In his words, “We will pay but some auditing would have to be done for us to be sure that we are not paying to ghost workers.” This means that for most of those usual names that hide in files without any physical presence, there would be a cut.
There is currently a tour by the Local Government Service Commission Chairman, Comrade Richard Gbande. Whether this is connected or unconnected with this, one only wonders. Perhaps a downsizing of the usual excess force with less work done would also be in order. This might put people on their toes so that they would be in a better position to offer more of themselves than now.
For even those in the private sector, there are smiles with organisations who were paying below now giving rises to their staff across the various sectors. For those who are not paying, there is the excuse of their workers to make noise now.
The attendant increase in cost of goods due to wage increment is already with us and the inflation whistles are blowing. It now behoves on the government to find a way to ensure that some policies or regulations are put in place to protect the monies that are given to these workers. It does not make sense to increase figures that would really not have an improvement on one’s wellbeing.
A finance expert, Mr. Ternenge Torough in looking at these says that there might be glee in the voices of the workers but the law of inflation would come with their more money pursuing fewer goods. This would, of course make the whole purpose of wage increment be in vain. He calls for more commitment to work by civil servants, saying the government is fashioned in such a way that corruption and ineffectiveness can be combated. These various checkmating that can be activated through active auditing and effective supervision should be looked into and ensured: Whatever money being paid should be worth it.
There is the prayer that soon there wouldn’t be a need for further increment due to the several issues particularly inflation. If this is done, then perhaps there might be a better and fair bargain for all parties involved. What is left now is to watch and pray it all turns out right this time and our take home would take us home. Amen.