Once again, the Rauf Aregbesola-led Osun State government has shown its anti-worker and dubious character with the current underhand dealing with renegade labour leaders to deny workers their legitimate right to nationally legislated N18, 000 minimum wage. This divide-and-rule tactic rather than cowing workers will further convince them of the need to fight the struggle to logical conclusion sooner than later.
It will be recalled that about two weeks ago, workers, arising from one of their congresses, resolved to embark on a four-day warning strike to drive home their demand for the implementation of the nationally legislated N18, 000 minimum wage, which the Aregbesola government has stubbornly refused to implement. Indeed, workers have held several congresses to call the attention of the government to the need to fulfill its promise of implementing the minimum wage when the revenue of the state improves. On the contrary, the government has been using various dubious strategies to avoid the issue.
In fact, in 2011 when workers went on a three-month strike to compel the government to implement the new wage, the government claimed to be paying N19, 001 minimum wage. In the real sense, what were added to salaries of a majority of workers were between N5, 000 and N10, 000. The most brazen attempt of government at avoiding the payment of a real wage is the dragging of workers and their unions to the National Industrial Court with the aim of rubbishing the new minimum wage by claiming that minimum wage is for the least paid worker, and not all workers. This again failed, as the government was directed to implement agreement it signed with workers, rather than trying to revise the new wage law.
Not satisfied with this, the government has gone a step further to break the labour movement by buying over some labour leaders. This explains the statement credited to some labour leaders claiming to represent workers of some unions: NULGE, ASCSN and MHWUN, that they did not support the now-botched four-day warning strike. Also, the subsequent bankrupt statement credited to Mr Omokhuade Marcus the National Secretary of Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JPSNC) on the invitation of the state government, to the effect that labour centres (i.e. NLC and TUC) do not have right to fight for workers, call workers to congress, or workers taking action on the basis of a congress, is not accidental. It reflects the pinnacle of the treacherous attempt of the Aregbesola government at crippling the labour movement in the state in order to continue its grandstanding regime. It surely found easy collaborators in the spineless and unprincipled labour leaders who are prepared to sell their birthright for visas to London. This itself is aided by the bureaucratic manner the unions are run, where labour leaders are not subject to the democratic control of and probing by workers. Moreover, the failure of the national leadership of labour in fighting to a logical conclusion the implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage across the board and at all levels, both public and private sectors, contributed immensely to the current travail of workers across the states.
We find it very ridiculous and shameful actions of the renegade labour leaders, who rather than defend workers, preferred to feather their own private nests. This action of the labour further show the need for workers to not only make a fundamental resolve to fight the struggle for the implementation of the minimum wage to a logical conclusion, but to also, more importantly begin the process of reforming their unions and their leadership, if they are to gain substantial improvement in their living conditions. We of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) maintain our unalloyed and principled support for the workers in the state in their quest for the implementation of the meager N18, 000 minimum wage, even if the labour leaders prefer to sell their birthrights.
The renegade labour leaders in their various statements claimed among other things that the current Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) Chair, Mr. Adejumo in the state had overstayed his term of office and cannot preside over meeting on minimum wage. If this is true, it is unfortunate, and further reflects the bureaucratic manner in which the unions are run, which has made many so-called labour leaders to turn holding union offices into career because of the pecuniary benefits and state patronages they get. But this excuse of the renegade labour leaders is only a cover for their own betrayal. Are they just realising the fact that the JNC Chair has retired now, when they have signed joint statements and memo with the same person. How does the issue of who is the JNC chair stop labour leaders from defending their members' right to a decent wage? Why use the occasion of declaration of a warning strike to raise such issue? Interestingly, these are labour leaders who have not called any press conference or issued any statement on salient issues affecting their members but were quick to organize press conference to condemn a warning strike. They could not even give alternative approach to getting minimum wage implemented, neither did they condemn the government's failure to honour agreement with workers.
If the treachery of the renegade state labour leaders is condemnable, the ridiculous support given this treachery by some national labour leaders is heart-rending. Some labour leaders led by the national secretary of the JPSNC, Mr Omokhuade Marcus, were invited or more appropriately mobilised by the state government, not to address the issue of minimum wage implementation, but to assist the government in identifying which faction of labour leadership to negotiate with. Of course, the government, having being successful in dividing the labour movement leadership in the state, mobilised the more pliable and useable hands in the national labour leadership to drive a wedge in the struggle of workers.
Of course, the government claimed it cannot commit all its resources on workers alone, but a government that wants to develop the state should know that it cannot do that when workers, who should carry out the so-called development projects, are poorly remunerated. On the other hand, politicians and so-called ‘technocrats’ in government are earning several multiples of workers’ salaries for doing practically nothing in comparison to workers’ responsibilities. While government claimed it does not have enough resources to make workers live above poverty line, local government council executives, who do nothing than signing revenue cheques and letters of identification, earn hundreds of thousands of naira, while advisers and assistants, whose jobs, aside praise singing the administration in the media and on social networks, are mere duplication of civil servants’ responsibilities are living large. If the government can get enough resources to pay its fat-cat officials and embark on job-for-the-boys projects, it should have no problem paying workers a nationally legislated wage.
We call on workers to demand immediate convocation of congresses of various unions, and of the central labour unions, NLC and TUC, to decide how they want to conduct the struggle. We call for fundamental restructuring of labour movement on democratic and revolutionary basis, as against the current arrangement where labour leaders, both local and national, have turned themselves into bureaucratic fetter against workers’ interests and welfare. More importantly, workers must realize the need to build a political alternative to the anti-worker capitalist ruling parties in the country.
Alfred Adegoke Kola Ibrahim
State Protem Chairman State Protem Secretary