Trade unions have warned the State government of Niger – the largest State in the most populous African country, Nigeria – of an indefinite strike action starting from February 4 on the issue of minimum wage. The unions have said they will take the action if the government fails to pay the revised minimum wage to its workers, along with arrears for the last eight months. The new minimum wage was approved by the federal government of Nigeria on April 18, 2019.
Following an emergency meeting of the unions’ State Executive Council (SEC) in Niger’s capital city of Minna last week, a letter titled “Notice of 21 days ultimatum of indefinite strike action,” was sent to the State governor. The letter was signed by the leaders of Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
Complaining about the “inability” of the Niger State government “to adequately respond to the issues raised in an earlier letter to the government,” Friday’s letter stated that “the organized labor in the State has resolved to once more demand from the government the implementation of the N30,000 [USD 82.27] new minimum wage, consequential adjustment and also payment of the accrued arrears before Monday, 4th February 2020.” If the government fails to meet the demands, the unions will launch the strike.
After resisting pressure from the labor unions since 2018, president Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) finally signed into law a bill on April 18, 2019, mandating an increase in the minimum wage from N18,000 [USD 49.36] to N30,000 [USD 82.27] with immediate effect.
However, disagreements between the unions and the government continued to persist over what should be the consequential increase in the wages of those earning above the minimum wage. The dispute was partially resolved only in October, after the unions threatened a major strike action which could have paralyzed Nigeria.
While the October agreement resolved the issues regarding wages of those employed by the federal government, public servants working for the State governments are yet to receive their pay hikes. The National reported that 15 States, including Niger, “are yet to agree on consequential adjustments of salaries as a result of the new minimum wage.”
Only a few States – including Lagos, Kaduna, Bauchi, Kastina and Borno – have concluded agreements with the trade unions, and even fewer have started the process of implementing it.
Last month, while providing a breakdown of the 2020 budget, the Niger State commissioner for finance, Alhaji Zakari Abubakar, said that the State government will be able to pay the federally approved wage of N30,000. He went on to explain, “We are already paying N22,500 [USD 61.90], what we need now is N7,500 [USD 20.57], we have taken care of that in the budget.. Resources will move from investment to ensure payment of the minimum wage.”
However, Abubakar did not comment on when exactly the payment of the revised minimum wages for the State workers will begin, saying only that, “this is 2020 budget. Everything in the budget will be implemented in 2020,” following the approval of the fiscal estimates by the House of Assembly, and after receiving the governor’s assent.
In the meantime however, workers are losing patience as an inflation rate of 11% is eating into their real incomes. A worrisome unemployment rate of 23% has been further exerting a downward pressure on the wage rates in a country where 86.9 million people live in extreme poverty – the highest in the world.