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Nigerian Labor Activists Denounce Delay in Salary Increase

A worker walks past excavators at a construction site of the Dangote refinery in Ibeju Lekki district, on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria, August 7, 2019.
A worker walks past excavators at a construction site of the Dangote refinery in Ibeju Lekki district, on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria, August 7, 2019.

Nigerian labor activists accuse the government of not being serious about increasing the minimum wage after recent talks ended unsuccessfully. Now, they’re threatening to strike.

Prepare for a nationwide strike. That’s the latest message from Nigeria’s Trade Union Side (TUS) organization and Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council to public workers and civil servants.

The call comes after talks between the federal government and labor groups ended in a deadlock last week. Neither party could come to an agreement on salary adjustment issues surrounding a new minimum wage increase that President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law in April. The law mandates that the lowest level of employees earning 18,000 naira a month, about $50, should now be paid a 30,000 naira salary, or $83.

It is a 67 percent raise that would benefit workers such as cleaners, receptionists, security guards and gardeners.

It applies to the private and public sector, with a few exemptions, like smaller businesses with less than 25 workers on the payroll.

But members of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria say the government is not serious about putting the law into action.

A statement from the Trade Union Side group or TUS read, "TUS has given the government enough time to come to terms with workers’ demands but it appears that the only language necessary for government to act is a strike."

Nigerian current affairs commentator, Adeniyi Kunnu, suggested that President Buhari’s approval of the new wage could have just been a political maneuver.

"Since April, you would have expected government to expedite action. I think very strongly when discussions [for the wage bill] were as its highest, it appeared as if the government gave it to the people just for political reasons and the fact that there needed to be some form of consolation going into the general elections that we had on February 23rd of this year," said Kunnu.

He went on to criticize what appears to be insincerity from the government.

"It is characteristic of this administration to more or less parry very salient issues. When you deal with the people that actually more or less till the soil of the nation, I think you should address their issues very importantly," he said.

Poverty on the rise

Poverty is on the rise in Nigeria. Numerous reports from local and international organizations show that the gap between the rich and poor is widening. The country is still struggling to bounce back from one of the worst recessions to hit in 30 years. The nearly 11.5 percent inflation rate is why some workers say this this wage increase may not actually be as good as it sounds. Jide Ologun, a lawyer and member of the Chartered Institute of Personal Management explained.

"You convert that to dollars and you’ll be amazed that’s its even lower that what it was in 2011 when it was raised to 18,000 naira," said the lawyer.

He also said that since the Nigerian government recently approved a 5.5 billion naira allocation, nearly $15 million, for members of the Senate to purchase luxury cars, then it should be able to pay the new minimum wage. "It’s a matter of prioritizing," he said.

The government is the largest employer of labor in Nigeria. So millions of people in the country are playing close attention to this. This weekend, the Labor Minister, Chris Ngige, spoke in Enugu to address misinformation about the implementation of the pay raise. He said junior federal workers have begun receiving the new payment, but the real issue is the consequential salary adjustment for upper level workers.

For now, negotiations have been stalled, with no set date for the next round of talks.