Today: April 13, 2024

NECA DG Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde

Why workers can’t have living wage —NECA

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Any moment from now the discussions on a new national minimum wage by stakeholders will commence. However, in a chat with the Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, Adewale-Smart Oyerinde, he gives reasons why Nigerian workers cannot have a living wage. He also speaks on the dollarisation of the nation’s economy, strikes, and unskilled labour among others.

Minimum wage

We are hoping that this year when the minimum wage conversation starts in the first quarter, we can all sit down and observe the parameters. The International Labour Organisation, ILO, Convention 131 has given us the standard framework for setting the minimum wage.

We will all sit down, look at those parameters and look at the realities on the ground within the context of the inflation rate, interest rate, ability to pay and the economy as a whole. Bringing all those parameters together, hopefully, we can arrive at a workable, realistic and positive minimum wage for Nigerian workers in 2024.

There has been conversation about the concept of a living wage, we must say this clearly, there is no global framework for setting a living wage as of this moment. Even at the ILO level, the conversation of a living wage is still being discussed. It is a concept that is acceptable to employers, and the global community, but there is no global framework on which the conversation can be hung. That framework is still being discussed. However, for minimum wage, it is a generally agreed framework. Convention 131 sets that pattern for us all to follow; hopefully, we will activate it this year to arrive at a reasonable minimum wage for everyone.

Dollarised wage

We cannot dollarise the economy. Nigeria’s economy is a naira economy. We don’t spend dollars here. A critical element of our existence that we must all deal with is this general conspiracy. If not addressed, we will all be co-conspirators in destroying this economy. 

What concerns the woman selling tomatoes with the increase in the dollar exchange rate? However, she will leverage dollar increments. The transporter will also do the same. What is the direct correlation of that with the dollar? Everybody looks for whom to exploit and that value chain of exploitation continues. Let us do the basic things. 

Beyond the issues that we face, let us pick the low-hanging fruits which can affect every part of our national life. One of those low-hanging fruits is making the manufacturing sector work. We must produce a fast way to our industrialisation. A faster way to address the issues that we have as a country is by producing what we eat or consume. Producing in such a way that we can export what we produce. With that, the pressure on Forex will naturally reduce.

Local manufacturing will boom and as it is booming, we are invariably addressing the issue of unemployment. As a lot of people are being dragged out of the unemployment rate, the issue of insecurity is also being addressed. It is something that we have shared with the government. It is not rocket science. Those countries that have developed – Rwanda and even as far as Vietnam – that is the model. The local environment must be conducive for local manufacturers to produce.

We look at GSK, Sanofi, and Nampak exit; we forget that many businesses are supplying those businesses. In the value chain, many businesses supply them with input and their survival quotient reduces drastically because the major businesses that they are supplying are going out of extinction. The workers that are working for them are also facing jeopardy because if the main business that they are supplying is exiting, there is a likelihood that they too will go out of existence. We have ignored the crisis at the value chain.

Work disruptions

2023 was also an interesting year for us in the industrial relations ecosystem. Our colleagues in labour had the issue of threats of strike, and mass action which we strongly believe was quite unnecessary. Unnecessary not because it was not needful, but unnecessary because of the circumstances in which we find ourselves currently. We are in a situation in which organised businesses are struggling to survive and those disruptions have the potential to drive more businesses into extinction. 

Our issue is that there is a legal way to address legitimate concerns of labour. We are also concerned that the disposable income of an average worker has been bastardised by the high rate of inflation and the incapacity of the business to meet certain responsibilities of internal and external stakeholders. 

While the demand for labour is legitimate and legal, we have issues with the way and manner those agitations were pursued. We have also said the organised private sector does not receive allocations from the government. For instance, during COVID, many of the civil servants from level one to 12 or 14 did not go to work and were not provided with the infrastructure to work from home, but the government survived. This is not the case for the private sector. For the private sector, 30 days make a payday.

We do not have the kind of luxury that the federal government has. The point we made then was that the private sector was neither the protagonist nor antagonist and we could not play the victim. We also pointed out that labour should face the federal government while allowing the private sector to breathe. We were hoping that the federal government would play its part.

One of the things we preach is responsible enterprise and that is why we have told the organised private sector that it must be alive to its responsibilities which include workers’ welfare, payment of taxes and levies and being responsible to the host community through corporate social responsibility. We also expect the same from the government. The government has to implement agreements or memorandum of understanding signed with labour. If all stakeholders play their part responsibly, we will have less proliferation of strikes and agitation.

Threats, strikes in 2024

One of the interventions that we are putting in place is to create an environment that not only promotes but deepens the fundamentals of industrial relations. You can be a good politician, a good economist, a good lawyer but if you don’t understand our ecosystem, you will muddle it up. You can be a good politician, but if you don’t understand the technical issues in that ecosystem, you will say what you are not supposed to say, do what you are not supposed to do because you are playing in the political field which does not really have a direct place in that ecosystem. That ecosystem has structures. 

The structures are regulated by ILO conventions, they are regulated by recommendations of ILO, and the structures are built on tripartism, social dialogue and respect for the rights of social partners. If you do not understand it, you could be tempted to feel, as a governor, why I can’t proscribe the union in my state? 

Politically, you can do that, but in this ecosystem, you cannot. You can’t proscribe it because Conventions 87 and 98 give absolute rights to the workers, and employers to run their associations free from interference. What we are doing is to create an environment where we can start promoting the knowledge of all these concepts so that a politician will not see it and say, ‘What is this? Where is this coming from?’ Those are global practices and for us not to embarrass ourselves at the global level, we have to start bringing in these things. 

We will be having our Second National Labour Arbitration and Adjudication Forum in Abuja on February 13. It will be themed: ‘Strengthening Tripartism, Social Dialogue and Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism for a Peaceful Industrial Relations System in Nigeria.’ All who is who will be present. 

When we discuss these things, everybody in our ecosystem becomes educated on the values and frameworks that guide our actions. If we follow that pattern, nobody will feel challenged if the union says you cannot come here. There won’t be territorial defence because there is a framework. For us, it is a big step towards sanitising the whole industrial relations system in this country.

Skilled labour force

There are jobs, but the challenge that we face is the paucity of skilled workers. With japaism, those who are skilful are leaving. This creates different dynamics in the workplace which is a major challenge for the employer because the funds that employers don’t have are being used for the retraining of those employed. However, we are glad that the Industrial Training Fund, ITF, has remained focused. 

The new Director General is repositioning the fund to step up its activities on skilled development. It is expected that we are going to deepen our collaboration on training with ITF and expand the scope of the Technical Skills Development Project so that we can continue to equip young Nigerians to become relevant in the workplace. 

That project has churned out thousands of Nigerians who are gainfully employed in big organisations. They are gainfully employed because they have been given the requisite skills and many of them have also decided that they would not join the nine to five train. 

They have opened their own business because the project also supported them with starter packs. For each of them that have probably decided to be an entrepreneur, there is a chance they also will have employed one person to support them in running that business which is also reducing the scope of unemployment that we have.

We are hoping that the government will put more focus on that kind of project, and expand it so that we will be able to address the challenge of unemployment from all angles. It is a multidimensional challenge and we must solve it with a multidimensional frontal focus through ITF, the empowerment of the organised private sector and through every other means that we can use to resolve unemployment.

Labour laws  

On the issue of obsolete labour laws, before the former Minister of Labour, Lalong, left he had committed to fast-tracking the process of passage and getting a commitment from the Chairman of Senate Committee on Labour and the Chairman, House Committee on Labour.

It is expected that work will be expedited on that law before the end of the first quarter. We need that law to guide and aid the development of the ecosystem. We are hoping that it will be done quickly within the shortest time.

Labour Minister

We want to appeal to the President that, while he should meet some political expediency in the context of appointing a politician as Minister of Labour, we also think strongly that he considers within his circle a technocrat either within the country or outside the country as long as the person is a Nigerian. 

Nigeria needs a technocrat who understands the language, contexts, concepts and frameworks that guide the management of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. It is a professional Ministry that should be overseen by a thoroughbred professional. We need a technocrat who has political flavour to manage that ministry for us to have the highly desired industrial peace and harmony.

This article is republished from Vanguard under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article

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