Workers Groan Under Rising Cost Of Living And Stagnant Wages
Workers Groan Under Rising Cost Of Living And Stagnant Wages
Nigerians, especially workers in the public sector are coming under severe pressure from rising cost of living as their wages remain stagnant.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on November 14 said the inflation rate has hit a new 12 month high of 18.3% in October. This is despite that workers’ pay has remained largely unchanged within the period. The last time the Nigerian worker got a salary increase across the board was in 2011.
Informed sources tell BusinessDay that there had been pressure on the Federal Government by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) not to up workers’ wages, to avert a bigger crisis in the public sector, where 26 of the 36 states of the federation are struggling to pay salaries on account of ‘lean resources’. Most of the states are also heavily indebted to local and foreign creditors, with Lagos, Kaduna and Edo leading the pack with $1.43 billion; $225.28 million and $179.52 million respectively, as of June, 2016, according to the statistics from the Debt Management Office (DMO).
A source at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment confirmed to BusinessDay that the Federal Government was not in a hurry for a pay rise in the public sector this year, notwithstanding the fact that the current N18,000 minimum wage, which had been due for a review since March, can no longer buy a bag of rice.
Also, a source in the federal ministry, who craved anonymity, says they have no direct involvement in the wage increase process and therefore are not in the best position on to confirm whether or not there would be an increase. “It is after the discussion that they report to the finance ministry and we will now look at what the government can accommodate from the treasury,” the source stated.
However, Ayuba Wabba, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), is hopeful that a tripartite committee comprising of the government, labour and organised private sector would soon be inaugurated to discuss the way forward.
The NLC and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) in April, jointly proposed a new minimum wage of N56,000 to the Federal Government. But this proposal had been left unattended to by the government, even as the fuel price increase palliative committee inaugurated in June, by Babachir David Lawal, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), which was supposed to form another sub-committee to discuss the wage increase proposal, hardly meets.
Femi Aborishade, a lawyer and founder of Centre for Labour Studies, Ibadan, Oyo State, in telephone interview with BusinessDay, says the states can still accommodate minimal increase in the salaries of workers if the governors cut down on their excesses and lives of opulence. Aborishade argues that it is wrong for elected public officers to earn more than ten times the minimum wage while the civil servants groan.
Ivor Takor, a Lagos based legal practitioner and former deputy president of the NLC, argues that this is the right time for government to review workers’ pay. He adds “It is ironic that the governors are against pay rise for workers when indeed their lifestyles do not reflect economic recession. Have they stopped flying private jets?”
Wabba recently said that that labour would present a fresh minimum wage demand to capture the current economic realities, listing inflation and naira devaluation which have undermined the purchasing power of an average worker, increased cost of transportation and food items, due to the fuel price increase from N87.50k to N145 per litre, to justify his position.
A market survey by BusinessDay shows that families are under severe pressure after seeing more than 100 per cent increase in the prices of essential food items including rice, groundnut oil, beans, garri, tomatoes and frozen foods among others. A 50kg bag of imported rice, as at Tuesday, was sold for between N18, 000 and N22, 000, as against N9, 500 this time last year. Also, a 50kg bag of beans has risen to N21, 000 from N10, 500 within the same period.
The price of a 50kg bag of garri has risen from N4, 000 to N8, 500, 25 litres of vegetable oil rose from N8, 200 to N14, 500, while 25 litres of palm oil rose to N14, 000 from N8, 000.
A kilo of turkey, which sold for N800 this time last year, now sells for N1,300, a kilo of chicken goes for N1200 as against N700 same period, just as a 50kg bag of onions rose to between N20,000 and N21,000, as against N10,500 last year.
Similarly, prices of other food items and condiments, such as Ogbono (a major soup thickener), salt, dried pepper, tomato paste, noodles, seasoning (Knorr, Maggi, Royco, etc), maize, flour, among others, have also risen significantly in the last one year.
On the back of rising price of flour and sugar, the price of bread, a major staple for many Nigerian families, has also gone up across the country. Big loaves of bread that used to sell for N200 now sell for N300, while those that previously sold for N250 now sell for N350, with prospects of further increase.
Yinka Ebunolurun, civil servant in Lagos, said ‘‘everything in the market is expensive. I am managing with my meagre salary. We no longer eat as much as before. We eat in the morning and wait till the night to eat our dinner.”
‘‘My salary has not changed and things are now expensive in the market. We are buying less for so much money. The wisest thing is to reduce our consumption rate and that’s what we have done for now,’’ Ime Umoren, a lecturer in Lagos said.
Patience Sule, a housewife in Lagos said, “We have adjusted to eating twice a day and in smaller portions too. These days, we do not eat to satisfaction; we just eat to keep body and soul together”
“I used to buy full bag of rice but presently I can only afford half and it stays much longer than when I bought a bag because now I apply sense in everything I do, Udochukwu Anyanwu, said a fashion designer, in Lagos.
‘‘As a bachelor, I eat out and do so thrice a day but I had to cut it down to twice a day when the price of a plate of food increased, so as to accommodate other needs,’’ said Samuel Mberu, a Lagos-based lawyer.
Joel Awosanya, an accountant said: ‘‘Since the prices of food items went up, my spending and eating habits have changed. I usually ate bread every day but it is now once a week. I eat little these days but not to the extent of attracting sicknesses like ulcer.’’
Babatunde Olatunji, a trader at Mile 12 market, in Lagos said “85 per cent of my customers are food vendors. Two months ago, most of them were buying food items worth N10, 000 or even more on a daily basis but these days; they hardly buy food items half that price. They keep complaining that they do not get as much customers as before and this has affected my sales as well.”
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