Once again, the clamour for a new minimum wage has been generating serious contentions across the country. Some labour unions are already flexing muscles, threatening to go on strike unless government agree to a new minimum wage. Although the federal government has set up a committee to look into the issue, the House of Representatives, on its part, has gone ahead by a resolution to endorse upward review of the minimum wage to N30,000 from its current N18,000. However, labour leaders have averred that anything below N56,000 minimum wage would be unrealistic and unacceptable to workers. It must be reckon that considering the high inflation in the economy and the massive devaluation of the Naira from N155 to $1 in 2011 when minimum wage was at N18,000 to the present rate of N365 to $1, the workers seem to be justify in their demands for an upward review of the wage.
While there is no denying that workers deserve to be given commensurate pay for their labour as at when due, we however consider it imperative that relevant macro and micro economic indices should be taken into consideration before arriving at the appropriate minimum wage in the country. Considering that a new minimum wage is long overdue, it is important that the government and the labour unions expedite actions in arriving at acceptable common ground to avert another crisis over the issue. Consequently, the tripartite committee involving the labour, private sector and government should brace up to the realities in arriving at a new minimum wage that will be supported by relevant legislation.
It is however pertinent that the tripartite committee recognises that a living wage in the true sense of it will be more beneficial to an average Nigerian worker than a minimum wage that is not in tandem with the realities of the moment. It should be appreciated that there is more to meeting cost of living than a minimum wage can accommodate. A living wage therefore implies the very minimum that should accrue to an average worker in addition to other buffers that guarantee their basic welfare needs as dictated by the prevailing pressure of the economy. More importantly, the new minimum wage in addition to living up to expectation, must be payable by the public and private sectors. Workers in both public and private sectors are critical driving force of the economy. The government must therefore accord the workers their inalienable right to have the right pay for their toil.
It is not convincing enough to suggest that state governments will not be favourably disposed to the payment of a higher minimum wage in view of the prevailing challenges over the payment of existing minimum wage. The truth remains that most of the states can afford to pay the new minimum wage if resources are properly managed with high sense of probity. It is high time employers of labour at both public and private sectors realised that salaries and wages of workers must take into account the prevailing economic realities that call for upward review. Consequently, state governments should cut cost and be more prudent in the allocation of resources. Since virtually all state governments are intensifying efforts at improving Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), it is expected that more funds will be available for recurrent and capital expenses.
Nevertheless, labour leaders must be realistic in their demand for minimum wage and be more strategic in clamouring for better social benefits for workers. Improved welfare packages for workers should reflect incentives that make education, transportation, housing and health care facilities more accessible towards alleviating living conditions as well as improving the standard of living of the people. Labour leaders should appreciate that there is no point insisting on a new minimum wage that will be a subject of endless controversies thereby making it practically impossible to implement. The new minimum wage must therefore be realistic within the framework of prevailing economic indices.
Going forward, while the present realities call for a new national minimum wage, the government should not wait until workers begin another round of agitations before acceding to the clamour for improved wages and welfare conditions for Nigerian workers.