Legal Nigeria


The Nigerian labour unions and the government are at a crossroad. The news of how we got here isn’t new but a painful realization of where we are as a nation.

The streets are almost empty, businesses shuttered, and the nation holds its breath as a massive strike orchestrated by Nigeria’s labor unions grinds the country to a halt. The demand? A staggering N494,000 minimum wage. This bold move underscores a critical issue: the need to balance economic feasibility with workers’ legitimate needs. Despite the federal government’s offer of N60,000, unions have deemed this inadequate amidst rising living costs, sparking widespread frustration among workers.

The labor unions’ right to strike is protected under Nigerian law, specifically Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and association. However, this right is not absolute. The Trade Disputes Act requires certain conditions to be met before a strike can be legally undertaken, including the exhaustion of dispute resolution mechanisms.

Attorney General Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, has labeled the strike ‘premature, illegal,’ inter alia, arguing that the unions failed to fulfill the legal prerequisites for a strike. According to him, negotiations with the Tripartite Committee had not officially ended.

The government contends that a N494,000 minimum wage is unsustainable given current economic constraints. The 2019 National Minimum Wage Act set the minimum wage at N30,000, which itself was a result of protracted negotiations. From a fiscal perspective, the unions’ current demand appears impracticable. However, the unions’ demands are driven by escalating living costs, making their request not unreasonable. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, inflation rates and cost of living have significantly increased, eroding the purchasing power of the current minimum wage and making it difficult for many workers to meet basic needs.

The government has emphasized their limited fiscal capacity, noting that an increase to N494,000 would severely strain public finances and potentially lead to inflationary pressures. This may be a legitimate concern, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has often cautioned against wage increases that are not matched by productivity growth, warning that such measures can lead to higher inflation and unemployment. However, this in itself is a blow to the face of the government, both current and past, as we are predominantly a consumption nation as opposed to a producing nation.

On the other hand, the unions’ demands reflect the harsh economic realities faced by workers. The significant rise in the cost of living has made it increasingly difficult for workers to survive on the current minimum wage. The unions argue that a living wage is essential for maintaining the dignity of labor, a principle enshrined in Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.'”

This disparity between what is economically feasible for the government and what is necessary for workers highlights the urgent need for a wage that reflects economic realities without jeopardizing fiscal stability. The unions’ demands underscore a legitimate struggle against economic hardship, emphasizing the importance of addressing workers’ needs in any wage discussion.

Achieving a fair and sustainable wage requires continued negotiation and innovative solutions. The goal should be to balance financial feasibility with the essential needs of workers, ensuring that any new minimum wage supports both economic stability and improved living standards. In this context, while the proposed minimum wage may seem impracticable, the underlying demand for economic justice and improved living conditions is undeniably reasonable.

The current impasse between the Nigerian labor unions and the government is a complex issue that requires a nuanced approach. Legal frameworks provide both the right to strike and the need for lawful conduct in such actions. Economic realities impose constraints on what is fiscally viable. However, the fundamental principle of ensuring a living wage that reflects the true cost of living remains a crucial aspect of this debate. Through continued dialogue and innovative policy solutions, it is possible to find a middle ground that addresses the legitimate needs of workers while maintaining economic stability.

I foresee a stalemate at N100,000 but hope for N494,000.