By Chijioke OKoronkwo
Though not yet` uhuru’ for Nigerian workers, they will join their counterparts world over to celebrate the International Labour Day on May 1.
This year’s celebration comes at a time Nigerian workers are battling for survival in the midst of poor remuneration and hyperinflation.
For the sake of hindsight, International Workers’ Day is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, the United States of America.
Reports had it that the police were trying to disperse a public assembly during a general strike for the eight-hour workday, when an unidentified person threw a bomb at them.
The police reacted by firing on the workers, killing dozens of demonstrators and several of their own officers.
In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests.
May Day was formally recognised as an annual event at the International’s second congress in 1891
The first Workers’ Day in Nigeria was celebrated in Kano State in 1980, as the then governor, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, declared the day a public holiday.
In 1981, however, the Federal Government declared May 1 the Workers’ Day.
Since Nigeria started celebrating the May Day, the occasion is often used as an avenue for stock-taking by the organised labour and employers of labour.
Unarguably, the agitation for a new minimum wage pre-dates the current administration and was even debated at the 2014 national conference.
A delegate from River, Chief Sergeant Awuse, had proposed an increase of the national minimum wage from N18, 000 to 40,000.
He said that going by the economic realities; N18, 000, “ is not a living wage’’ and asked his colleagues if any of them could survive with such meagre salary.
Mr Clement Mgbada, a delegate from the South East, said N18, 000 minimum was too paltry for public servants, adding that endemic corruption in the system was as a result of poor remuneration.
He also said that the issue of minimum wage should continue to be in the Exclusive List of the constitution.
Some of delegates argued that the issue of minimum wage should not be pollicised or treated with levity, stressing that salary should be based on cost of living index.
Expectedly, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) under the leadership of Comrade Ayuba Wabba are not resting on their oars as they take the agitation headlong to the Federal Government.
The NLC and TUC had proposed a new minimum wage of N56, 000.
To this end, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the setting up of a 29-man committee to negotiate a new national minimum wage for workers.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige said that meetings had been held to finalise the report of an earlier constituted technical committee.
He said the next stage was to constitute the minimum wage review committee which will work with the report of the technical committee.
“When the national minimum wage committee finishes its work, it will go to the National Assembly because all national minimum wage issues are issues that are on the exclusive list.
“So it is within the ambits of the National Assembly in accordance with the 1999 constitution as amended,” he said.
“The meeting was the final conclusion meeting of the Federal Government and Labour technical committee on the issue of the review of minimum wage and the prescription of the palliatives.
“The committee is supposed to put up a framework for the composition, functions and establishment of a minimum wage tripartite committee to review the hitherto existing 2011 minimum wage as well as prescribe to government the areas of palliatives that will enable the economy cushion the effect of the increase in the pump price of petrol.
“The committee has finished its work and we held a conclusion meeting to finalise our report and this we successful did. This committee will now take this technical report and hand over to the main committee of Labour and government.
“It may be sometimes next week if everything goes normal, and we have started consulting on the day.
“Once they receive the report, the committee will adopt the technical report or make some amendments and then submit it to Mr President, and based on the report, the President will constitute a national minimum wage tripartite committee,” he said.
Nonetheless, Nigerian workers feel enough is not being done to redress their plight and wonder if May Day is worth celebrating in Nigeria.
Miss Funke Thomas, a public servant, said that that the workers’ salary vis a vis the people’s cost of living was still very poor.
She also said that the government failed to build new staff quarters after selling the old staff quarters to their occupants some years ago.
“An average Nigerian worker is always in need because he or she can hardly cope with the high costs of living in the country.
“Some years back, several civil servants did not have to contend with house rent as they were living in staff quarters but the story is different now,” she said.
Another civil servant, Mr Martins Odey, said that Nigerian workers were obliged to join their global counterparts in marking the May Day in spite their of their poor working conditions.
He said only staff of few Federal Government agencies could raise up their heads high and say they earned like their counterparts in other climes.
“ I wish to urge the present government and the National Assembly to immediately revoke the policy of consolidated salary scale; It is anti-workers.
“It has not made the lives of Nigerian workers reasonable.
“It should be reversed back to the old scheme where workers can access loans for cars and have quarters built for them.
“See that of suffering the workers are facing over house rents while politicians acquire all choice property,’’ he said.
On his part, Mr Audu Isa wondered what hungry workers should be celebrating.
According to him, prices of everything have increased and there is no sincere effort at increasing the minimum wage.
He said that May Day was not worth celebrating in Nigeria.
“It is not worth celebrating. Labour said that workers salary should be reviewed every five years in line with economic trends but when was the last time workers wage was reviewed in Nigeria?
“What we receive now is mere peanuts and workers morale is low and I wonder what will motivate them to celebrate May Day,’’ he said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Udo John, said that internal wrangling had weakened labour union; hence the little or no achievement in terms securing a new minimum wage for Nigerian workers.
He regretted that two labour unions were agitating for two different minimum wages- N56, 000 and N 96, 000 respectively.
“Unless the two unions form one umbrella; they will not be taken seriously.
“Whether good or bad, it will be celebrated in a low key. Workers are not happy; market women are not happy; people in the street are not happy,’’ he said.
John called on the government to enhance the workers’ salary to reflect the high cost of living in the society, particularly the soaring prices of goods in the market and the high cost of transportation and accommodation.
He urged the government to either build staff quarters or allocate land to its agencies to erect low-cost houses for their staff, adding that such an policy would alleviate the plight of workers in getting affordable accommodation, particularly in expensive cities like Abuja, Lagos and Part Harcourt.
Meanwhile, NLC has said that May Day celebration was an ample opportunity to make a pronouncement of the National Minimum Wage.
Mr Peters Adeyemi, Chairman, Joint May Committee of NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) made the call at a pre-May Day news conference where he outlined activities for the commemoration of the 2017 Workers Day.
“The May Day is an auspicious occasion for the working people to reflect on their struggles and make their demands.
“We shall use this opportunity to renew the call for the review of the National Minimum Wage that is overdue for review considering the current economic trends.
“Inflation has increased, the naira has lost its value and the current minimum wage has been completely eroded.
“Therefore, the need and urgency for the review of the current National Minimum Wage,”he said.
Perceptive analysts urge the government to give priority attention to the workers’ welfare.
They say that poor remuneration is one the factors that predispose people to corruption and must be addressed for the anti-corruption war to be more effective