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Nigerian Labor Unions Seek Minimum Wage Increase

Nigeria's two labor unions are pushing for pay increases to keep pace with soaring inflation. The unions are demanding a steep increase in the minimum wage ahead of talks with the government.

Nigeria's labor unions are expecting wage negotiations to be tough this year in the face of declining national revenues and the devaluation of the local currency against foreign currencies.

The Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress insist that workers need to be compensated for the rising cost of living.

And while Nigerian Labor Congress spokesman Owei Lakemfa acknowledges that the Nigerian economy is struggling, he also points out that the minimum wage has remained stagnant over the past eight years.

He says if the government is serious about helping Nigerian workers survive the current economic difficulties, then it can do something immediately by reviewing the minimum wage.

"The minimum wage was reviewed last in 2000; that is over eight years ago. We also looked at comparative wages paid in various African countries and we found it to be very high. Thirdly, even the wages of the political class have gone up by 800 percent in the last one year and nothing has happened to the wages of workers. In Nigeria, the minimum wage is 5,500 naira [$40]. So you find that the average worker cannot afford even the basic necessities of life," he said.

Thousands of Nigerians have already lost their jobs in recent months, and government officials warn there could be further layoffs across all sectors if unions ask employers for more money.

The minimum wage is currently $40 in Nigeria. The Nigerian Labor Congress says it wants $350.

Nigeria, which gets 90 percent of its export earnings from oil, has seen its currency weaken more than 20 percent since early December as oil prices slump on concerns about the health of the global economy.

Economists predict Nigeria's economy will slow more sharply than expected this year as Africa's top oil producer struggles to reduce its import dependency in the face of a weaker currency and falling oil revenues.