Amidst rising cost of goods and services in the country, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has said it would ensure that the next national minimum wage to be negotiated in 2024 reflects the prevailing cost of living.
It lamented that following the removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government, life has become extremely unbearable for workers.
Addressing participants at the opening of the 19th edition of the NLC’s Harmattan School holding in Abuja, President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, said it had become necessary for governments at all levels to recognise that life and living conditions were exceedingly difficult, especially for working people in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy.
He said removal of subsidy on petroleum products further exacerbated challenges faced by working people, unleashing severe pain and contributing to galloping inflation and increasing inequality and poverty.
“We must reckon that a well-motivated and well-remunerated workforce has a positive impact on productivity and national development.
“As we anticipate the commencement of negotiations for the national minimum wage in 2024, we seek the understanding of all stakeholders to ensure that we use this opportunity to arrive at a minimum wage commensurate with the prevailing cost of living,” he said.
Ajaero, who was represented by Deputy President of the NLC, Benjamin Anthony, said the ultimate goal of negotiating a new minimum wage was to establish a living wage that covers the cost of living and make allowance for some savings by the workers.
He noted that since the adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in the mid-1980s and subsequent wholesale adoption of neoliberal economy framework, there had been a sustained disruption of the social pillars of society and cut on public spending on the provision of social services.
According to him, the series of austerity measures adopted by government have, “significantly impacted on the quality of life of workers, peasants and the poor, thus creating an urgent need for collaboration with broad segment of the society to form a formidable force for sustained policy engagement with the governments at all levels.”
The NLC president also spoke on the face-off between organised labour and the Imo state government.
According to him, as far as the Congress was concerned: “the thing that can assuage its pains is for the Imo State Government to address all labour issues and return the so called ‘ghost workers’ to their jobs, pay all outstanding salaries and pensions and call back all victimised workers to their jobs”
On his part, NLC General Secretary, Emma Ugboaja, said the situation was becoming highly unbearable for the workers and indeed most Nigerians.
Ugboaja added: “Up till now the federal workers are yet to receive their November salaries and that means December salary might be paid in January.
“This is not what it used be and if we don’t combat this now, then it becomes absolutely difficult for the average worker to appreciate what is called policy engagement.”
He said payment of salary which was a primary function of government was now becoming difficult to fulfill. “It is unimaginable that payment of salaries will now become collective bargaining issues,” he said.
The theme this year’s Harmattan School was “Building Workers Skills for Policy Engagement.”
Speaking on the goal of the Harmattan School, Ugboaja said the NLC had made it a compulsory for any worker who would contest for any office in the unions to show evidence of having attended training courses organised by the NLC.
Ugboaja, also said this year’s Harmattan School had been scaled down to exclude participants from other African countries due to paucity of funds resulting from the removal fuel subsidy.
Chairman of the Federal Capital Teritory chapter of the NLC, Stephen Adalo Knabayi, said the theme was apt and timely considering so many happenings in the labour sector that calls for serious evaluation.
The Country Director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Vanessa Phala, urged the NLC and other trade unions in the country to take active part in the implementation of the Abidjan Declaration trade unions in partnership with other tripartite partners.
She said the unions were expected to participate in policy dialogue to achieve the priorities identified in the areas such as productivity growth; skills development, formalisation, extension of social protection coverage; addressing gender inequality and discrimination; just transition; decent work and the reduction of inequalities.
Phala, said the NLC had demonstrated commitment and capacity to engage on issues on trade, investments, and decent work in general.