Shelved Labor Strike: What Cross Riverians Said

In Breaking News, Business & Economy, Interviews

By Mary Umani, Martha Abua, Godwin Otang, Rose Ofem and Monica Njagu

The federal government on Tuesday announced a new minimum wage of NGN30,000 after the tripartite committee set up to negotiate the wage presented its report and a draft bill to Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari.

The announcement came after days of intrigues following the threat of the organised labor consisting of the Nigerian Labor Congress, Trade Union Congress and the United Labor Congress to shut down the country through the instrument of an industrial action.

The labor leaders in Cross River State had advised residents to prepare themselves for the strike. However, a deal was reached a few hours to the date of commencement; Tuesday, November 6, 2018 and the strike was called off.

But, not many had gotten the information and residents in Cross River State shared mixed feelings over the shelved strike.

“Nigeria our beloved motherland, as usual this time I support the action. NGN30,000 minimum wage? We have the poorest wage in the world, and we donated USD500,000 to a country here in Africa for her election just last week. So please let’s shut down Nigeria,” Mr. Princewill Okon, a resident in Ediba, Calabar who was not aware that the strike had been shelved, told CrossRiverWatch on Tuesday morning.

For Mr. Jerry Ugbong, a shop owner, the experience of past years had shown the insincerity of government and queried why rights activists had kept mute over the matter.

He said that: “I over support the strike. Where are our human right activists? It is time to occupy Nigeria like they did in 2012? Where is Pastor Tunde Bakare of Save Nigeria Group? Where is Professor Pat Utomi? All silent now? Shame on them all.

“Chris Ngige the minister of labor and productivity, how much is his salary as a minister? How much do we pay Senators and House of Representatives? Now how much is the minimum wage of a husband and father in Nigeria? What is the cost of living in Calabar and they want to keep basic minimum wage at NGN30,000 not to talk of Abuja or Lagos. The funniest (sic) thing is that the federal government went to court to stop labor from striking. To hell with them I say no going back.”

For Stephen Ewa, an educationist, there was need for the government to, “know that the implementation of the new minimum wage is not just targeted at the workers alone. It is for the good of all Nigerians. So, the president should see to it, I am begging him, because in Nigeria, there is no fix price for any product or service, not even the minimum wage.”

On the minimum wage, Mrs. Paulina Ibor, a staff in the University of Calabar posited that: “The amount being paid to the workers is not enough, so I think the federal government need to do something about it. A common Nigerian worker cannot receive NGN30,000 as a minimum wage. That is very bad for our country. The amount in question is not too much for the federal government to pay.”

Mrs. Bassey Godwin, a businesswoman said the amount was too meager. “Concerning the NGN30,000, government should add money for them so that they can be able to buy things as I am selling; so that I will have more money to buy another thing, because if they don’t pay NGN30,000 they will not be able to be buying things.”

Mrs. Edemawan Edem, a civil servant also averred that the money announced by President Buhari was not enough.

“I don’t know why they (labor) think it is enough, but if that will make Nigeria move forward I think they can go ahead with it because on a normal day even NGN30,000 cannot even pay your child school fees, let alone take you through the month as in home keeping, car and generator.

“It is supposed to be more than that but since Nigeria doesn’t have so much money as they claim so they can do with the NGN30,000 till another five years when there is another review,” she said.

Mrs. Edem who described the proposed strike as “necessary,” called for the reduction in the wages of government officials. “Do you know how much they take home every month?, it is too much compared to what a civil servant receives,” she added.

Some of the respondents

Despite the organised labor calling off the strike at the last minute, there were several institutions that were not open. Some places visited had skeletal services going on with most civil servants staying at home.

And, Mrs. Victoria Etim expressed worry over the failure of government to implement its decisions and pledges in the past. “I am a teacher, the suffering is just too much for us, the federal government has forgotten that we made every profession possible, I just pray that this shouldn’t be their normal way of promising and then do nothing at long last. I so pray that they should be a positive response this time,” she said.

Mr. Clement Peter, a civil servant said the strike would have affected electricity distribution, companies, fuelling stations and every other public building which would have been a total shut down that will impact negatively on the economy.

The Vice Principal of the Government Secondary School, State Housing, Calabar who declined mentioning her name commended the federal government for taking action to aver the strike as it would have disrupted the academic calendar of the institution.

“Thank God the strike did not hold because it would have affected us drastically and it would have been stressful because the school was supposed to close on the 7th of December and if the strike was held it would have been shifted till next year so thank God it did not hold and I believe government will pay us,” she said.

Theresa Umoh, a fish seller said a strike action would have been bad for business. “I want my children to go to school and of course my market is very important to me,” she said adding that if the strike continued, “I will not be able to feed myself and my children as I must sell fish every day before I can eat. Although, federal government should also try to increase the minimum wage so many buyers will come to buy from us.”

As at 11:00AM on Tuesday, the Vice Chancellor of the Cross River University of Technology, Professor Anthony Owan-Enoh had not arrived his office while his two Deputy Vice Chancellors were in a meeting. Several directors were yet to report to their duty posts while some technicians and cleaners were seeing around the Varisty’s premises.

At the Nsemo Government Primary School, Ikot-Ishie, some staff were seen in the office with very few students. Some of the classes were closed with no education activity ongoing.

A teacher, Mrs. Mary Otu who said she was against the idea of a strike action, as it would have affected studies, explained that negotiation was the best option as the industrial action will lead to, “a go slow in all areas of survival and there will be slow financial circulation and we don’t want that to happen.”

Muhammadu Mohammed, a cosmetics seller simply said: “life is too hard, hunger is too much,” and called on the federal government not to reduce the proposed minimum wage.

Also, several other places visited across the State showed little or no activity ongoing.

There was panic buying of foodstuffs and fuel with transporters also temporary hiking fares. As at Monday evening and Tuesday morning, residents said that getting a vehicle from 8 miles to Watt market was almost impossible while across the State, several motor parks were empty.

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