In this interview, the Head of Information of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Benson Upah, highlights the difference between minimum wage and minimum pay:
The NLC has rejected the N27,000 recommended by the National Council of States. What options are open to you before embarking on a strike?
We are going to hold a meeting. An emergency meeting has been scheduled to address this situation. I don’t want to preempt the outcome of the emergency meeting, which will be soon. After the meeting, we are going to issue a formal statement.
The Federal Government has said the increase is only for people earning less than N30,000. Is this what was agreed to with the unions?
The concept of the national minimum wage is derived from the belief that it is the minimum below which no employer is allowed to pay. It is the irreducible minimum below which no employer in the public, private – and the informal – sectors, if possible, is allowed to pay.
The essence of that is to ensure that we do not create a pool of the working poor. There is this assumption that salaries and wages are a favour. But they are not. Beside the fact that salaries that accrue to people as a right in exchange for labour, salaries keep families going.
They also help to stimulate our economy, particularly in states where there are no industries. Even in states where there are industries, salaries help to further stimulate the economy because they help in improving the productive hours of workers.
Once they are able to pay for services or pay for goods, it goes round in that circle from the man who sells garri on the streets to the man to sells pure water, to hotel owners giving hospitality services. It is a chain.
It continues like that and the economy will boom. But once you pauperize workers and they are unable to purchase anything, it deepens the poverty situation, not only in that immediate environment, but also around the country. And take note that the N30,000 minimum wage we have been asking for amounts to no more than N150 a day for a family of six.
Some people do not understand the concept of the minimum wage. It is our duty to educate them what the concept is. The concept of minimum wage is not the same thing as a uniform pay package as some governors keep on trying to suggest.
Are you saying there will no general increase of salaries, especially for those already earning more than N30,000?
A meeting has been fixed on this matter and we will address the offer by the Federal Government and the Council of states. I am not going to preempt the outcome of that meeting. I only spoke on the matter of the minimum wage because some people do not understand the concept of the minimum wage.
It is our duty to educate them what the concept is. The concept of minimum wage is not the same thing as a uniform pay package as some governors keep on trying to suggest. At the moment I can give you an example: A director in Anambra State earns probably lower than an assistant director in Benue State.
So, a minimum wage is not the same thing as uniform pay package. I cannot comment on what the government has done, that will be decided at our emergency meeting.
There is this assumption that salaries and wages are a favour. But they are not. Beside the fact that salaries that accrue to people as a right in exchange for labour, salaries keep families going.
Is the NLC likely to continue lobbying the National Assembly to raise the minimum wage to N30,000?
No. I have told you I am not going to speak on this matter until after the meeting. We will take a decision after the meeting.