‘Labour should vet state budgets and expose areas of wastages’
A former President of Trade Union Congress (RUC), Peter Esele, in an interview with COLLINS OLAYINKA of our Abuja Bureau insists that Labour must employ workable tactics to ensure that employers especially state governments implement the new minimum wage.
How can Labour ensure most employers pay the N30,000 minimum wage?
I think it’s going to be an issue of how Labour deploy their efficiency, and the struggle must also be research and fact based. The governors must be made to understand that N30,000 of today is actually less than N18,000 of 2011. In the 2011 negotiation which I was part of, we based our negotiation on 12 dollars a day which was 120 dollars per month equaling N18,000. What you have now is N30,000 and if you base it on N360 to the dollar, what you will have is about 80 dollars. Outwardly, the naira amount of N30,000 seems big but in terms of the purchasing power, you are between 25 to 30 per cent less. We need to bring this fact to the attention of the governors.
The other part of it is that Labour should engage in extensive research and look at the budget of the 36 states and pick out areas of wastages. They should then bring this to the attention of the public. This is because one thing the politicians are always afraid of is public opinion. So, Labour must emphasise this. They should use their communication and research skills and employ their dialogue and negotiation skills for maximum effect. That is the way I think they should go.
Governors will always complain but I am happy that about 15 states said they are ready to pay the minimum wage, remaining 21 of them. Now is the time for Labour to use their various state councils to look at the budgets of the states and then point out to the public the wastages that abound in the budgets. There is an outgoing governor that just employed about 1,000 special assistants. That means the governor is increasing the state’s recurrent expenditure and it is a big problem.
Now we are going to have new governors coming in and each of them would also have at least 1000 new employees and that is a problem. So, Labour need to focus on this. In other parts of the world, it is the civil service that drives government. So, once a government comes, it does not need to bring new people in. Even if it will, they won’t bring in more than 10 personal aides. Some governments in some states employ additional 5,000 people when they come in and that is a problem. Hence Labour need to pick all these out.
They should go a step further to look at their earnings because most of these personal aides earn an average of N100,000 monthly. If we should multiply this by 100 new employees, you will see how we under develop ourselves.
Our problem is that we focus on the Federal Government too much. If we decide to compare the Federal Government with the state government, one would be left with no option than to award a medal to the Federal Government. What is responsible for our growth and development are the state and local governments but our attention is not on them. We prefer to focus on the federal.
My advice to Labour now is that they should put attention on the state governments. Fortunately, Labour have states councils so they should inform them to focus on state governments. What I also noticed is that most state councils are in the pocket of the governors and they end up not saying what they are supposed to say. What they then get are short-term benefits and we suffer in the long run.
What is the implication of the increase in salary without a corresponding increase in the funding of other crucial sectors as such physical infrastructure?
One question we should ask ourselves is: What do we use to service the various sectors? I usually ask myself why we have a union in a state that has not paid salaries for 38 months and that governor is able to go to bed. I don’t know how the labour union tolerated that for long. I like to put things in perspective. If you tell a worker that you cannot pay him/her the minimum wage because of funding of other sectors like health and education, then you must have a plan to give adequate health care to the worker and his families and also provide education for them. It is by then you would have a basis to say you are not paying the worker that amount because you are taking something off him.
In some countries, they pay as high as 50 per cent of their income as taxes. And in these countries, quality education and health care is free and even the transport system is taken care of. So, if you say as a governor, you cannot pay the workers the minimum wage because you want to embark on something that will make life easier for them, then you will have a basis to talk to the workers.
We should ask ourselves why those who work in the oil and gas sector put everything into their work and are ready to risk their life for the job. Why is this attitude not replicated in other sectors? I carried out an assessment and I found that in the oil sector, workers’ welfare is a priority. They give you some percentage of your children school fees, your health care is taken care of and your transportation is made easier. With the provision of all these, that person would only be thinking of his job and retaining it would be paramount. Now compare the productivity of the person who works in that environment and the productivity of somebody who have not been paid for several months.
I was shocked when I heard that a governor has not paid workers for three years and I wonder how he wants the workers to survive. How can the productivity of such workers be measured without putting payment of salary into cognisance? Is it impossible to fight corruption without paying workers’ salary? The first law of life is survival and everyone would definitely find another way to survive in an environment where salaries are not being paid.
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