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‘How to determine workers’ minimum wage’


Tonye Cole

Amid growing concerns on unemployment, Tonye Cole, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, in an interview, talks about the minimum wage and other developmental issues.

There are concerns about the impact of a new minimum wage. What should the new minimum wage be?
At the minimum, the minimum wage should be a living wage. In other words, a worker who earns the minimum wage should be able to afford the basic needs of life (food, shelter and clothing). I agree with the workers who say that the current minimum wage is a poverty wage. It is the equivalent of only five hundred and eighty naira per day. Though my vote is for a national living wage for all workers in Nigeria, I also believe that a worker should be rewarded based on the value created.

For instance, an employer may find it difficult to sustain the salary of an employee earning one hundred thousand naira per month, if the employee only contributes fifty thousand worth of value.

If the President approves the new minimum wage of thirty thousand naira per month, do the states have the ability to pay?
There is something more important than the ability to pay. It is the willingness to pay.We are humans even before we are Nigerians. The fact is that an employee who collected eighteen thousand naira per month in 2011 would be happier than the person who will collect thirty thousand naira per month in 2018. This is because the rate of inflation has deflated the wages of workers in private and public sector institutions.

But despite the financial constraints several states face, a higher minimum wage has more advantages than disadvantages. A higher wage attracts and keeps talent, will assist you to keep your child in school and gives low income families access to better healthcare.

States must no longer treat wage as an expense. Wage is an investment. More than ever before, government must be run like a serious business.A higher minimum wage is a new contract with a worker. The worker also promises a higher minimum productivity. Both parties must fulfill this obligation.

Wouldn’t a drop in oil prices affect the ability of a state like Rivers State to pay the new minimum wage?
Since 2008, Rivers State has been generating over N100 Million daily in internally generated revenue (IGR). The only state in Nigeria that generates more internal revenue than Rivers is Lagos. IGR is money that does not come from the federation account. This means that there is an economy in Rivers State that goes beyond relying on oil income from the federation account. In other words, Rivers State is filled with untapped potential.

Isn’t the potential of Rivers State limited by the rising cost of living?
The cost of living in Paris, London and San Francisco is relatively high. Despite the high cost of living in these cities, they keep attracting new migrants, tourists and business visitors.This shows that though it is important to reduce the rising cost of food and rent, reducing the high cost of living should not be the vision of any serious government.

My focus is on reducing the higher cost of insecurity, joblessness and poor education. The future of Rivers State lies in how quickly its leader can create and distribute wealth. That is my vision for Rivers State.A wise man once said: “Tomorrow belongs to the people who plan for it today.”

What sort of policies can be used to improve the quality and standard of labour in Rivers?
Presently in Rivers, the oil sector is not just the most attractive but it is the only attractive sector.The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveals that agriculture contributes twenty six per cent (26%) to our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).Sadly, in Rivers, agriculture contributes only ten per cent (10%) to the GDP of the state.

The analysis is simple: this is the time to have an agricultural revolution in Rivers. This will lead to thousands of jobs for our unemployed youths. The latest unemployment report reveals that Rivers State has the worst unemployment record in Nigeria. More than 40% of potential workers in the state are unemployed.We cannot continue to feed the rich while the poor starve.

There have been some concerns from the private sector that the real problem in Nigeria is not only unemployment but the unemployability of the youths. How should the nation address this issue?
If youths are unemployable, then we need to retool our teachers. Certainly, better skills will reduce unemployability. One of the ways that India has reduced poverty, illiteracy and unemployment is through a revolution in its education sector.We must create new incentives for our children to stay in school. They must see that quality education will guarantee a quality job.

In Rivers, what is the fastest way out of a potential unemployment crisis?
We do not have a potential unemployment crisis in Rivers State. We have a real unemployment crisis. All the economic reports say the same thing. The evidence shows that there are approximately three million unemployed and underemployed persons living in Rivers. While some want a higher minimum wage, many more want a minimum job.

What other sectors in Rivers can the youths be engaged in?
The level of industrial development in Asia, Europe and America makes it difficult (not impossible) for Nigeria to compete in the global manufacturing industry. But, we still have an opportunity to compete favorably in the services sector.As governor, I will initiate new policies that will attract investments in entertainment, sports and creative arts.

How can the country encourage more women to join the labor force?
A woman must be respected and treated fairly not only during the job application process, but while she is on the job.There is a lot of on-going research on how lowering the personal income tax rate for women can be used to encourage women to participate in the labor force.As governor, I will implement an innovative process that protects the identity of women who report cases of sexual harassment, intimidation and domestic abuse.

Is there a secret for achieving our goal of a more prosperous nation?
There are many secrets but I particularly like William Ward’s approach. Like him, I believe that there are four steps to achievement. “Plan purposefully. Prepare prayerfully. Proceed positively. Pursue persistently.”

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Minimum WageTonye Cole
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