May Day 2014: Nigerian Workers, Employment Challenges, Child Labour And The Minimum Wage
Year after year, the nation joins a large part of the global community to commemorate May Day in honour of its working citizens, and in this May Day, across the country, we will again watch paradoxically, an alliance of organised labour and government deliver homilies and mouth sanctimonious platitudes, without in the end, matching action with words, and following through on key commitments and obligations.
While it may be true that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been growing annually by 6-8percent since 2010, according to information from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and other sources; and while it can be argued that Nigerians no longer live on less than a dollar a day, which points to a relative improvement in working conditions, the stark situation on ground poses a rude shock and a huge re’ality check to these numbers. What is more, the Gross Domestic Product (Gross National Product), as Robert F. Kennedy in March 1968 famously observed, “…does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile…” How true! Indeed, the wages of most working Nigerians today, still falls far short of a guaranteed income with a despairing minimum wage; the unemployment rate in the country is increasingly higher, and many Nigerians are still caught in the poverty trap, forcing a sizable number of families to resort to child labour in order to make ends meet. The streets of this country are swarming with young children and teenagers who are supposed to be in school peddling all sorts of goods to augment their family resources, or willfully engaging in pilfering and all forms of social vices. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) rightly indicated in its recent report, Marking Progress against Child Labour – Global Estimates and Trends 2000-2012 that 168million children worldwide are in child labour, accounting for almost 11percent of the child population as a whole. Children in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development make up more than half of all child labourers, numbering 85million in absolute terms. The report noted that although the largest absolute number of child labourers is found in the Asia and the Pacific region, Sub-Saharan Africa (And by the way, Nigeria makes up the biggest part of Sub-Saharan Africa) continues to be the region with the highest incidence of child labour with more than one in five children in child labour. Without doubt therefore, the Nigerian government is in increasing gross violation of the ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the ILO Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, the two principal legal pillars for the global fight against child labour, sound policy choices, as well as solid legislative frameworks.
The ILO further stated in its Global Employment Trends 2014: The risk of a jobless recovery; and in its new edition of Key Indicators of the Labour Market, that around 839million workers lived with their families on less than US$2 in 2013 while a total of 822million workers are in poverty in the developing world, amounting to 30.6percent of the workforce. It equally observed that while unemployment rose by 6percent worldwide, in Sub-Saharan Africa, of which Nigeria is clearly the largest, paid employment opportunities are scarce and the vulnerable employment rate, at 77.4percent in 2013, remained the highest of all regions. The body also noted that reports on recent decline in unemployment rates hides the bitter reality that many jobless workers are finding it increasingly difficult to get into a new job within a reasonable period of time of 6months or less; it acknowledges that in developing countries such as ours, workers move faster between spells of unemployment and employment than in advanced economies, but that is because they transit frequently into informal employment.
Again, in its Global Wage Report 2012/2013, the ILO says that while wages grew significantly in emerging economies, differences in wage levels remain considerable. In the Philippines, a worker in the manufacturing sector took home around US$1.40 for each hour worked. In Brazil, the hourly direct pay in the sector was US$5.40, in Greece, it was US$13.00, in the United States US$23.30 and in Denmark US$34.80. Sadly, here at home, the Nigerian economy does not allow or favour hourly wages, nor does it provide a legal framework for tipped workers (Jobs that rely on tips). The ILO in the Report equally placed Nigeria in the Lower-middle-income bracket of countries (Armenia, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, India, Moldova, Mongolia, Nigeria, Philippines, Sri Lanka) whose income per capita is US$1,006-3,975 (N171,020-675,750) or US$2.76-10.89 per day, second only to Low-income countries (Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Niger, Tanzania) whose income per capita is US$1,005 or below. And since income per capita is calculated by dividing the total national income by the number of people in the nation, the whole picture is skewed, and does not tell us anything significant because GDP does really measure everything except that which makes life worthwhile. Hence, the wages of Nigerians pales into insignificance when compared to those of workers in other climes. The Nigeria Labour Factsheet, a Labour supported quarterly publication has also consistently deplored the degrading working conditions of Nigerian workers.
Perhaps, harder hit in the gruelling and volatile workplaces in Nigeria are women who disproportionately work in low wage jobs. Compared to their male counterparts in similar job placements and work categories, they don’t earn a fair pay, and are often prohibited from discussing wage disparities, so the minimum wage likely affect them more. Women are also frequently passed up for promotions. In addition, they are often required to stay up late at work, and because most times their husbands are equally in such work environments, their children are left uncared for.
This is why on this May Day; we demand that the Nigerian Government live up to its primary responsibility of guaranteeing the security and welfare of its citizens as enshrined in Section 14(2b) of the Constitution by initiating a periodic review of the minimum wage, say biennially. In fulfilling this sacred obligation on this May Day for a start, we call on the government to increase the monthly minimum wage from N18,000 (US$105.88) to N23,400 (US$137.65), a modest 30percent increment that the government can easily finance. This little raise in wages which will add up to N64,800 (US$381.18) annually can go a long way in lightening the burdens of fighting working families. Here is what this raise really comes down to: N64,800 (US$381.18) annually in a nation with such an erratic power supply as ours will buy an additional 668litres (149gallons or 10tanks) of petrol for working families to power their generators and enable artisans to run their little businesses, and for a struggling family with an average car (with a medium-sized tank), it will provide 10tanks of fuel for about two months. N64,800 (US$381.18) will buy groceries or foodstuffs for up to six weeks or two months for a struggling family of four, or it will pay the tuition fees for one or two kids in a term; and for a family living in a one bedroom apartment (Self-Contain) in suburban Lagos, Portharcourt or Warri, it will pay for 4-6months of rent. If the family happens to live in a two or three bedroom apartment in suburban Lagos, Portharcourt or Warri, that raise will pay directly for 2-4months of rent.
We therefore urge the Jonathan Administration to immediately adopt and ratify this recommended 30percent minimum wage increase, it makes common sense, it is practical, it is workable and it is realpolitik.
Comrade Eneruvie Enakoko and the Conscience Reports Team.
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