Following the recent indefinite strike suspension regarding the removal of petrol subsidy and other palliative disagreements, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Comrade Joe Ajaero, clarifies Labour’s position and demands in a revealing interview with Vanguard Newspaper.
90% of Demands Met, Claims NLC President
Ajaero defended the strike suspension, stating that about 90% of Labour’s demands were met during negotiations with the federal government. “The essence of every negotiation is to reach an agreement that is enforceable and implementable,” he began. The Labour leader emphasized that some significant demands like the adoption of CNG as an alternative to petrol and the functionality of refineries were on track.
“We demanded for CNG as an alternative to petrol… plans were laid down for it,” Ajaero explained. “We are aware the refineries won’t work the following day, plans were on ground for us to even go and inspect what’s happening in the Port-Harcourt refinery to make sure that it is completed and come into stream by December.”
Promissory Notes and the Suspicion of Government’s Intent
Addressing the accusation of the government’s offers being mere promissory notes, Ajaero confirmed that while they were indeed promissory in nature, timelines have now been attached. He highlighted the government’s track record of not always delivering on promises but expressed cautious optimism about the recent commitments.
“They are promissory note in the sense that they are not converted to Naira and Kobo or to action immediately,” Ajaero said, emphasizing the one-month suspension of action as evidence of Labour’s hesitancy and a need for monitoring.
“Sell Out” Accusations and Critics
Ajaero vehemently dismissed accusations of Labour “selling out,” challenging the critics to understand the intricacies of labour negotiations before making uninformed comments.
“What is the meaning of sell out?” he asked, insisting that critics weren’t there from the beginning and didn’t have the mandate that Labour operates under.
On Minimum Wage and Economic Realities
Using a holistic approach, Ajaero began by highlighting the current economic realities faced by the average Nigerian worker. “The least paid worker in Nigeria should get a minimum of two hundred dollars. It’s not even up to ten dollars a day. So, if you even put it at seven dollars a day…,” he stressed.
Breaking down the costs, Ajaero highlighted:
Transportation: An assumption that a worker doesn’t own a car, commuting to work will cost roughly N2,000 daily. “None of our workers lives in the city centre,” he noted. This equates to almost N60,000 monthly, considering workdays.
Accommodation: Living on the outskirts, a decent two-room apartment would be around N20,000.
Feeding: Basic dietary needs, even without luxury items like tea, sugar, or meat, can easily reach up to N3,000 daily. That’s approximately N90,000 for a month.
Adding up just these costs, the tally is already around N170,000.
The education of a worker’s children cannot be ignored. Even for basic education, “if you look at school fees for four children, even if they are in kindergarten, there is no way you will not have almost N200,000” for a term, Ajaero explained. Divided monthly, this becomes about N65,000.
Summing up the basic costs of living, including education, transport, accommodation, and food, you’re already surpassing the N200,000 mark. And this doesn’t even account for other essential needs.
“These things I mentioned, there is no soap for them to bathe, there is no toothbrush, there are no clothes, there is nothing,” Ajaero lamented.
Possible Solutions and Considerations
The NLC president emphasized that while N200,000 might seem significant, it will only be sustainable if other reforms are put in place. The adoption of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or even electric vehicles, if realized, could significantly bring down transportation costs. Moreover, a school system guaranteeing free education and a functional healthcare facility could also ease the burden on families.
“But if you don’t have any of these, even that N200,000 will be a mess,” Ajaero warned. He concluded that for the proposed wage to be effective and avoid stoking inflation, comprehensive structural reforms and practical approaches are necessary.
Economists’ Take on the Wage Increase
When asked about economists’ warnings against a wage increase due to the country’s huge debts, Ajaero was defiant. He questioned their credentials, suggesting that any “sound economist” would understand the importance of purchasing power in an economy.
“Those people are not in this climate, those people are quacks and I challenge any of them to come out,” he retorted, emphasizing the critical role that workers play in the national economy.