48,000 Naira Minimum Wage: A preposterous proposal, By Dr. Uche Akunebu

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“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages ,I mean more than a bare subsistence level. I mean wages of decent living”

     – Franklin D Roosevelt ,32 president of United States of America. 

On Wednesday, 17 May ,2024 ,the tripartite committee on the new minimum wage met ,with members of the organised private sector suggesting N54,000 as the new minumum wage ,while government put up the proposal of N48,000 . It was a tripartite meeting that ended in fiasco ,as representatives of labour walked out of the negotiating team ,in protest to the preposterous proposal of N48 ,000 as new minumum wage for workers .

Before the walk out ,the team that represented Labour demanded to know if the N48 ,000 was for transportation,  food, clothing, shelter or what  ? A question that left the negotiating team tongue-tied . The laughable proposal of government speaks to the insensitivity of people in government to the plight of the Nigerian workers ,and goes to confirm lack of interest in Franklin Delano Roosevelts ,”wages of decent living “.

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As reported by Daily post of May 17, 2024, the former Kaduna central Senator ,Shehu Sani described the 48,000 offer from government as an “Almajiri offer” . Such offer could be likened to the “widow’s mite” insignificant amount . 

To buttress the point on the poor amount proposed by government, Shehu Sani on Arise television interview of Thursday May 16,2024 opined ” I don’t know how a Nigerian can survive with less than N100,00 . If you break down what the government is offering N45-48,000 ,you will see how unrealistic it is by the time you factor in many things. The position taken by Labour should be considered by government.  He argued.

What is the position of labour if one must ask? Labour is asking N615,000 as minimum wage based on data carefully gotten . For a family of six to survive in month labour figure cannot be seen as living in fools paradise ,as it represents reality.  That was the reason ,that the team that represented it demanded to know if the N48,000 proposed by government was for transportation, food ,clothing, shelter or what? 

To put the records straight, in 2011 when minimum wage was N18,000 ,it could buy two bags of rice . In 2019  when the minimum wage went up to 30,000 . In 2019 ,the price of 50 kg bag of rice was between N20,000 and 25,000 depending on whether it was local or foreign rice. The same 50 kg of rice is now between N62,000 to N80,000 . With the 48,000 offer of government, it shows that it fell short of the price of a bag of rice. You see why this proposal is preposterous? 

Expanding the argument further,  the 
official exchange rate for 2019 was N306 and 360 to $1 at the official and parallel markets respectively, while as of today the exchange rate is more than N1,501  to one United States dollar . In every parameter used, the money offered by government is infinitesimal and could not be said to show seriousness in a government desirous in seeing workers live well as was promised by president Bola Ahmed Tinubu some time ago . 

How can Nigerian government be paying those in the National Assembly homogouus sums and not care a hoot of the peanuts that workers that generates the money are given as wages ? What about the mouth -watering sums payed to those in the executive branch of government?  Political aids also earn heavily leaving workers to kick their wounds . Is this the way the nation wants to proceed ? 

Could it not be a shame that government was putting forward suggestion of  N48,000 ,when the Edo State government, led by Godwin Obaseki on May 1,2024 announced a new minumum wage of N70,000 for its workers ? What message was the federal government trying to pass by that?  Is it that Edo State government is richer than the federal government? I wonder what happened to the thinking caps of those that went to negotiate on behalf of government. 

Even when the governor of Edo State made that announcement of N70,000 new minimum wage for workers of Edo 

State ,he promised to go with whatever the federal government approves at the end of the day. Governor Obaseki in his wirdest imagination could not have believed that the federal government would propose a new minumum wage lower than what he is paying Edo workers. He was even looking forward to adjusting upwards the new minimum wage in the state as soon as the government comes with something higher.

The writer and so many others were expecting something far higher than what Edo State government has started paying its workers ,and not the ridiculous amount put forward by the federal government. How can Labour come with data -driven demand and government coming with any figure that crossed their mind?  Everything in this country has gone up ,but salary is 
static ,and you expect workers to go and steal to make up for what is not being payed them . This is not unacceptable. 

Even if government could not pay the real amount put on the table by Labour, it would have done well if it had met it half-way ,than what they offered, that offends sensibilities. 

With the money saved from oil subsidy ,government should be thinking of offering something reasonable and not the laughable amount presented to labour. Nobody is suggesting that labour should hijack all the monies made by the government, as there are other competing needs,but workers who work out the money should not be allowed to live in penury an pain .

As  Bernie Sanders ,an American Senator and long time champion of poor working class of American once warned ” A job should lift workers out of poverty ,not keep them in it “.

Dr Uche Akunebu is the Head of poets of the world (Poets del Mundo) Nigerian chapter and Editor of African book series of the international human rights arts Festival based in New York. 

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