By Ibraheem Abdullateef
Following the growing agitation from the labour unions in Kwara over the implementation of the minimum wage which was signed into law, effective April 18, 2019, thus repealing the Minimum Wage Act of 2011, opposition elements and critics in Kwara have begun to spin the narrative of neglect, incompetence, and insensitivity against Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq to gain cheap points. It is an exercise in futility. No level of blackmail and propaganda will make this government lose sight of the big picture: development.
In joining the rank of advocacy for the implementation of the minimum wage, the bulk of commentators largely left the issues for tissues. They are rather preoccupied with sentiments. For the record, the Kwara State Government has never said it doesn’t want to pay the minimum wage as promised. Far from it. What has been the bone of contention is the condition of labour demands and sustainability, and the consequences on the plan of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq to develop the state. It is a valid concern.
As much as workers deserve proper remuneration, workers’ welfare must go side by side with other cardinals of governance. No matter how much salaries and emolument they are paid, the impact on the economy and overall state development can not equal the need for hospitals, schools, roads, water, among other critical social and infrastructural investments, which are the gateways to sustainable growth and economic prosperity.
This is the state of the state. As of now, Kwara Government uses 68% of its revenues (FAAC&IGR) to offset wage bills (including allocations to MDAs), leaving 32% for running the government, social investment, and infrastructural development. The reality is that even this is so small. To be using ¾ of capital in a business to pay employees is not ideal, it leaves growth hard to get.
But it becomes almost impossible that by the time you have 72% going to the same workers. That is the problem minimum wage will thrust on the government. Out of 4.4 billion average total revenue, 3.163bn will be going down, leaving a largely inadequate 28% for other government responsibilities if the government agrees to the table the labour wants. It is an invitation to stagnancy. The question to ask is; why should we inflict that damage on Kwara when we can improvise?
It gets even harder with the LGAs. And I am worried that the bulk of staff railing against the Governor doesn’t understand that he is dying for them. Nonetheless, he won’t be giving up. Ramoni ntori aja ja, aja npe tani nja le’nkule oun. Yet, he will persist.
If the LGAs are struggling now, they’d die practically when they implement the minimum wage with the scale being demanded by the labour presently. With a wage bill of 2.4bn (95%) of an average (100%) FAAC receipt of 2.6bn, they are almost left with nothing for other responsibilities in various Local Government. When Minimum wage is signed with the labour’s preferred table, the wage bill will rise to 2.9bn, leaving them with a need to borrow about 300-400 million naira monthly to pay up. They’d become a beggar organ, borrowing to pay salaries in just a matter of months. It will eventually get so worse they will start paying half salaries. That is why I said earlier they don’t know what is at stake and who’s fighting so hard for their wellbeing.
If I were them, we would go for the low-hanging fruits. They can support Governor AbdulRazaq in paying arrears, pension and gratuities, and conducting promotional examinations with necessary payment. It is part of a welfare package they deserve and can get. They really need to remember that while they were home during COVID-19 lockdown, some of their counterparts in other states were owed salaries yet Kwara never defaulted 100%. For a Governor with a rich record of honesty and compassion, strike action is not a good return.
This is where dialogue and a high dose of understanding should prevail. A willing Government in dialogue with a patriotic set of labour union leaders should not become an object of sponsored attack in the media. From day one, AbdulRazaq’s stance has not changed: we will implement minimum wage according to the dictates of available resources. We won’t go beyond limits. Or what kind of Governor stockpile loans to pay salaries? Never again in Kwara. It is a habit of the former administration led by Ex-Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed the Kwara labour unions seem to cherish.
For all the abysmal record of mismanagement and traumatic experience workers suffered in the hands of that administration, the labour unions didn’t only go on strike, is it true the labour leaders signed an agreement to support the PDP in 2019 polls? They reportedly signed an agreement to support a party that subjected them to so much trauma. It beggars the mind why. And why perceived hostility to a better one?
If it is purely about workers’ welfare the labour unions need to do more than usual blackmail. They should explain why they won’t budge even if the LGAs will plunge into debt to get their current demands. Labour unions elsewhere in the world do not grandstand alone, they look at issues holistically. They should explain why they think the best of Kwara government is negotiating for local government, an act clearly against the NFIU guidelines which necessitate financial autonomy for LGAs. It is also a law like Minimum Wage. So, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Just before people come again with rhetoric, Kwara Government is not backing out of any of its promises. As it has been doing well with fixing roads, schools, and healthcare centres, it will come through with them all. The question Kwarans should be asking now is; how much of the N30,000 minimum wage is good for all parties? How much will be consistent? How do workers get paid and still be able to enjoy other dividends of good governance? As we speak, there are some states in Nigeria talks have not even started, not to talk of implementation. The armchair critics will not tell you.
The unlawful proceeding to strike action by labour unions in Kwara in spite of a court order to back off the course is not helpful. That singular act takes the shine off their cause as democratic organisations, rather than being law defaulters calling on another organ to obey the law. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Regardless of the interest, the principles of integrity, honesty, and responsibility should not be lost on both parties.
This is why amidst the agitation for minimum wage, the urgent demand is minimum sacrifice. Kwara civil servants and all concerned public servants must become aware that state development should tower higher than any other interest. That reminds me of a particular wisecrack, tomorrow is the bearer of nemesis. Government will survive all forms of onslaught from the opposition element and attacks in the media, but can Kwara bear the brunt of retrogression? It is no rocket science. Something will suffer for something. We should rather meet in the middle.
The Minimum wage and its consequential adjustment in demand by labour unions are not attuned to Kwara reality. Development will suffer. Civil groups, associations, and other stakeholders should call on labour unions to access dialogue, accept realistic offers, and allow for all-around growth and development to take place in Kwara.
Minimum wage has come to stay. But it will come with minimum sacrifices.