Why FG, Labour’s Debate On Minimum Wage Is Flawed – Adebayo

Why FG, Labour’s Debate On Minimum Wage Is Flawed – Adebayo

You reacted to the minimum wage debate recently and referred to the quality of negotiation between Labour and the government. Could you elaborate on that?
They are talking within their industry alone. Both sides have their negotiating tactics, even though some of the numbers they are throwing around may appear unrealistic to them. But my message to them is this debate arose not from the adequate wages but the problems of purchasing power. When you listen to the Trade union Congress (TUC) president and all the comparatives he was given, even though he was talking about micro economics in terms of what his members need to get from their employers, they are not talking about the economy overall. What is causing price instability for them is the purchasing power of the naira. There are two ways to help the purchasing power of the naira. One, you can do a stabilisation of the currency itself so that you kill hyperinflation and inflation. That way, the naira from January to December can maintain its purchasing power.

The second thing you can do is come from the welfaristic point of view, which is to realise what the workers are worried about. What exactly do they spend their money on? For Instance, the average worker can have access to housing at seven percent of his salary, have access to medical care of five percent of his salary, have access to education of four to five children at six percent of his salary and now deals only with food and transportation by virtue of his having employment. He can have an access card, the kind of which I grew up to know in Lagos State during the Lateef Jakande administration, that is LSTC (Lagos State Transport Corporation). So, for instance, if you have all these things packaged, that is, 25 to 35 percent of your salary, then, you won’t worry too much about this argument about what N615,000 will give you.

If you have a million workers out of over 200 million people, if 37 governments will need up to a million workers to run the services, you will be spending N615 Billion every month. In a year, you will be spending about N8 Trillion just paying minimum wages, it doesn’t make any sense.
Now, if they cut it by half, it still doesn’t make any sense. If they cut it by one-third, one-quarter, it still makes no sense. At the end of the day, let’s say there is a magical space where you are just printing money, the way N615,000 sounds today is not the way it will sound in four years. The TUC president or his successor will come back to say N615,000 is a joke. It can’t take us anywhere.
So, the intervention we are making is that you are solving the problem at the pricing of labour. You cannot solve the problem there because it is too narrow a space. Where you can solve the problem is the amount of social investments you need to make in the economy. That way there is a minimum wage floor which you cannot fall to with regards to the workers, including the employed, semi-employed and unemployed, skilled, highly skilled and low skilled.

Talking about social security investments, do you think the government has started on a good path?
We don’t have the same ideology, but they are throwing money at a non-existent product and that is where I have disagreement with them. Whether you pay salary, pay allowance, pay grants like we did during the Udoji Award, you give loans and all that, what is that loan chasing? Remember during the Udoji award, where once you get it, everybody runs to UTC to go and buy bicycles, and the price of bicycles skyrocketed. Meanwhile, in China, if you join the civil service, they will not give you any udoji Award, they will give you bicycles because the bicycles come with the job. If you were in the colonial government and you were an assistant district officer, school officer, health officer, forest rangers, or PWD, all these things are tools. When you are getting the job, they will direct you to the staff quarters, this is the school your child should go to.

So, how do you guarantee that education, shelter, and health care, are the basic needs that people scamper to get?

We have to organise our politics and government around them. What we are doing now is that we are organising our politics and government around sharing money. In Abuja, the states and the local governments, under ALGON, come to share money. The TUC and Labour also come to collect their own share. It is still the principle of sharing money, not sharing value, and not creating anything. Remember, if you are talking about stakeholders in the country, labour is superior and senior to the government of the day. I can be president tomorrow, I will still meet labour there, because it is a continuity and the social services, everything you want to run to make life easy for labour is to be done by labour members themselves.

Q. If this government is to start on a note that is sustainable, what would you say is the best and practical step to start from?

A. It should start with social investments. First, stop worrying about who a worker is? They have to first look at Chapter 2 of the Constitution and say if by virtue of this Constitution I have been given a mandate to come and govern Nigeria, what are the promises inside the Constitution? What is the minimum that Nigeria should, and do we have the resources to put them there? By that, you now know that you need new hospital beds and new roads. During the Second Republic, all the governors understood these social investment elements and that is why all the state governments had their own school board, scholarship board, water resources, such that water gets to houses even in rural areas. What we are doing now is a monetary government where we share money. There is the assumption that because one is collecting three times the money in FAAC now than in 2019, that there is availability, not knowing that seven times the cost now is not up to what one was collecting before. This is the illusion of money. It is not the amount of money you collect, it is the purchasing power of the money and the allocative efficiency in the economics of that money. So, you will see that a state in the North with 20 percent revenue of the states in the Niger-Delta is making more progress with its allocative efficiency, while the other state may be spending its own money on politics and things like that.

Q. So, you are saying social investments must come as a package at the point of employment?

A. The way our Constitution is crafted, it is not related to your job. It is related to your being a citizen. While I was growing up, I schooled in Lagos and Ondo States during the eras of Jakande and Ajasin. I was too young to be employed by anybody. I was about five years old in primary school, and as such, I was not employable, but the government was interested before we started class whether I had eaten or not. When we got to school, the first thing they would give us was bread, beans and milk. When they were chasing you around in primary school to give you that inoculation, it wasn’t that you were going to be employed by them, it was required that the government made sure you were not blind or crippled.

Q. If you were President Tinubu today, considering the fuel crisis now, what would you be doing?

A. What I will do is broaden my philosophy. Don’t follow the party manifesto. Follow the Constitution. Know that if you want to be president, you must follow Chapter 2 of the Constitution. If we follow that, Nigeria will be a different country.

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