Early this year, my colleagues and I enjoyed calculating what our new salaries will be if the new minimum wage is implemented. These guys are statisticians and they used whatever method to find out that if the minimum wage becomes N30,000, our salaries will be increased by 66%. Wow! The result was so enticing. I was already making lists upon lists of things to buy (funny, huh?). I even called a car dealer to find out the price of one car I have been eyeing for long (abeg, laugh if it presses you, no be your fault). Honestly, I fell in love with Nigerian government (that was then o).
Fast forward to April 16, when Mr. President finally signed the money into bill, it was celebration all over (I heard that people started placing orders for things). We couldn’t wait for that month’s alert. Finally the alert showed and we were wondering if our HQ made a mistake. Next alert showed, nothing. Hehehehehe, that was when we began to suspect that this minimum wage thing is a ‘scam’. And we were right, because up till now, we are yet to see anything, even the 9.5% increase for people like me (but seriously, what will 9.5% actually do for us?).
Anyway, what I want to discuss here isn’t how civil servants have been waiting unto the new minimum wage. I am here to look at how the new minimum wage can make the lives of Nigerian workers better. Well, here is the bad news – the proposed increase in our salary will not help us.
To start with, the amount is small; it will make no difference in our spending and saving power. Ok, let’s look at it. If my net monthly income is #70k, and it is increased by 9.5%, by the time you remove tax, pension, trade union fee, National Housing Fund, and any other deductibles, I may only have #5k added to #70k making my new salary #75k; and there will be noise about salary increase everywhere (mtchewww). Even the 11% increase they are dangling before us now will still give the same result, so leave that.
I want to use this opportunity to call on Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) exco to demand for better welfare for Nigerian workers. Asking for money isn’t enough, we need more than that. I will list the things we need below.
What Nigerian Workers Need
a. Housing: Every month a certain amount of money is deducted from our salaries in the name of National Housing Fund (NHF). I honestly don’t know which houses we are funding. I haven’t seen any house provided by the government for its workers that they are collecting that money for. When I asked, I was told that when I retire, the money will be released to me. Hmmm, my mother retired from civil service since 2008 and Federal Mortgage Bank hasn’t paid her till date. She followed it up and they kept doing her ‘come today come tomorrow’ until they told her they will contact her when it is ready. Till date o, nothing has shown. She later heard from one of her fellow retirees that the money that will be refunded is so small that you will wonder why you spent your time, energy and the little money you have following up NHF refunds.
Aside that, why do I have to wait till I retire to own a house? Why won’t Federal Mortgage Bank build houses and sell it to workers on mortgage? Anyway, what do I know? As far as I am concerned, NHF deductions na scam. If it is not, they should tell us publicly how they plan for us to use our money to buy our own homes while we are still in service.
Anyway, let NLC executives also demand for housing scheme for Nigerian workers. If not, the new minimum wage will go into making up money for rents.
b. Health: The government is actually doing well here through National Health Insurance Scheme. At least right now, I am not afraid of taking my children to hospital because our government got it covered. But, some hospitals are not doing well here – they collect a certain percentage of the total bills from the patients even with the NHIS coverage. I don’t know if it has something to do with the hospital or the HMO. Anyway, proper investigation and cautioning need to be done.
c. Education: There is nothing wrong with government paying for the education of their workers and their children. The government may decide that any staff that wants to go for further studies should apply for sponsorship. I know that something like this exists for some institutions and for some privileged workers, but it should be thrown open to all. This is also the same thing with paying the school fees for workers’ children. I know that some agencies and parastatals accept to pay the tuitions for maximum of four children per worker, so this isn’t new in Nigeria. My own is that such privilege should be extended to everyone.
d. Retirement: Do you really know why Nigerian workers are afraid to retire? It’s because they have nothing and nowhere to retire to. Ok, let’s be honest with ourselves. These workers have been feeding from hands to mouth all through their service years. This means they have no savings, houses, businesses, secondary source of income, or even any idea on how to survive without their salaries. A lot of people will say, “what about their pensions?” Well, meet a pensioner and he will answer that question.
So what am I trying to say here? Nigerian workers are not prepared for life after retirement. All through their service years they have been following the civil service rules rigidly and do not know that life outside the civil service world is flexible. By the time they retire, pick up their gratuity and go into the flexible world to set up something that will keep their flow of income coming in, they will be lost. Anyway, this is story for another day. There are several ways government can help its workers to prepare for retirements.
To our NLC executives, as we are getting ready for another nationwide strike action (hopefully, it won’t happen), deliberate on these demands and add them to what government should do for us. We need life, not just money.