Nigeria is in a profound crisis of compensation. What with outpour of national commentaries over the scandalous discovery that scores of states are neck-deep in “wage theft”, denying their respective workers (for whatever reasons), legitimate monthly salarie President Muhammed Buhari hit the nail on the head on assumption of office on Monday when he described as a “…disgrace” non- payment of salaries. According to him with “treasury virtually empty, with debts in millions of dollars, with state workers and even federal workers not paid their salaries. It is such a disgrace for Nigeria. I think Nigeria should be in a position to even pay (her) workers”.
If we add the pension crisis, the compensation crisis in almost 36 states of the federation is assuming a tragic dimension deserving as much attention rightly accorded insurgency afflicting 6 North East states. The two Holy Books, namely Quran and the Bible, stress the spiritual significance of prompt returns on labour through payment of salaries. Non-payment of salaries as and when due can therefore be classified as an act of a non-believer. Even colonial authorities paid miserable wages as and when due. We must urgently rescue our wage system in particular and reward system in general must be rescued from total collapse.
The late Pope John Paul II once observed: “ A just wage for the worker is the ultimate test of whether any economic system is performing justly’. In Nigeria today there is no just wage for workers. In some instances no wage at all. To this extent, our economic system is far from performing justly. Beyond corruption, at the root of Nigerian worsening economic crisis is income insecurity engendered by low pay and sadly no pay in recent times. Behind almost all the strikes, which have hit all the sectors of the economy in recent time, is the crisis of compensation and declining purchasing power in the wake of massive Naira devaluation and rising costs of living.
The real threat to democratisation process is the desperation of workers in the face of falling purchasing power and the attendant poverty. A hungry workingwoman will be less tolerant and less democratic. Indeed a hungry workingman is susceptible to worse forms of corruption. We cannot fight corruption with miserably low paid and certainly with unpaid workers. Above all, with working poor and (Allah forbids! now working beggars!), we can as well say farewell to economic recovery, productivity and wealth generation. A worker as hunter and gatherer of food cannot be productive. Workers in the club of 20 developed economies, Nigeria envies are well paid on time and well motivated too.
My dear friend Olusegun Adeniyi in his profound reflection on the compensation crisis entitled “The States of Emergency” on Thursday 18th of June, still felt short of highlighting the plight of the unpaid workers. Indeed he discussed unpaid salaries in relations to internally generated revenues of the states and some plausible bailouts for states in trouble.
It may very well be true that some private- jet flown governors who deny their workers monthly miserable salaries deserve “poverty alleviation measures” deserving our sympathy. But let’s pause a bit and ask the question; what about the workers? Perhaps we may for one consider the plight of that worker not paid for one, two, three or four months. If he or she is the only breadwinner, it is clear then that the family support totally collapses. Food will be difficult to find to feed the children with all the implications for malnutrition.
Some kids may be withdrawn from school on account of non-payment of school fees while Easter or Sallah cloth will necessarily elude them. Pray the member of the family is not ill either. Since the breadwinner cannot meet expectation, depression logically replaces love within the household. The options before unpaid workingmen and women in a society without social security like Nigeria are therefore better imagined.
Chapter II of the 1999 constitution deals with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Section 13 mandates all organs of government, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers, to promote policies towards ensuring: among others that “the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused”. Non-payment of salaries is an abuse of labour. It does violence to dignity of labour being one of the core national ethics in section 23 of the 1999 Constitution. It is unconstitutional as it is illegal.
The trend towards the non payment of wage income, contrasts with relative growing income that goes to political and business classes, especially the owners of money capital with open-ended interest rates and profits and dividends. . There has been a shift in the distribution of income in favour of non -performing political classes with the entire disincentive for productivity in the real sector of the economy. It will for instance take a minimum wage earner about 2 years and five months to earn what legislators earn as wardrobe allowance of N506, 600!
The efforts towards economic recovery will prove difficult unless there is an urgent resolution of the crisis of compensation confronting the economy. Only through adequate wages can workers meet the basic necessities of life. This means it is imperative that workers demand equitable wages and incomes in general so as to meet the basic needs.
High wages however have positive effects on the economic. In the context of Nigerian economy, high wages will ensure high level of effective demand for goods and services; especially now that most warehouses of companies are full of unsold goods due to depressed purchasing power. This will definitely assist in stimulating the economy as a whole. Thus it is not only the workers who have vested interests in equitable wage incomes but the economy as a whole.
There is therefore an urgent need for a radical review of the structure of existing compensation system before workers can be motivated and their commitment to work assured.
• Comrade Aremu, mni, is General Secretary Textile Workers Union and Deputy President, NLC