YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A push by organized labor in Nigeria to raise the minimum wage has drawn a warning from Cardinal John Onaiyekan.
The Archbishop of Abuja said the move could end up benefitting the rich, not the poor.
“Whenever the minimum wage is increased, it is not the low-income earners that gain, but the senior workers along the ladder who earn bigger salaries,” Onaiyekan said Nov. 29.
Speaking at Nigeria’s first National Catechetical Summit, the cardinal said “the minimum wage should not be used as an excuse to increase the wages of those who are not even within the minimum wage bracket.”
“What we understand by minimum wage is that nobody should be given a wage that is below the living wage,” he said.
Earlier this year, a Tripartite Committee made up of representatives of labor unions, government officials, and business leaders recommended raising the minimum wage in Nigeria to 30,000 Naira-per-month (about $82), an increase from 18,000.
The cardinal also questioned the sincerity of the politicians debating the issue.
“When it comes to the issue of salaries and allowances, all the political parties seem to have nothing to say.They all agree because it serves their selfish interests. So anybody going to politics for selfish interest is only going to make things worse for us,” he said.
Onaiyekan said the minimum wage should be implemented in such a way that it would benefit people across the income spectrum and called on the Catholic Church to consider full time remuneration to catechists, who often work full-time for the Church in Nigeria, in line with the new minimum wage requirements.
The cardinal said the catechists must be considered as important as building churches and “lavish rectories.”
“The new sets of catechists that lie ahead will need to be properly funded … Our local churches will need to put the funding of catechists much higher on our priority of diocesan budgets,” he said.
“As Catholics let’s not forget that the catechists give information to the Christian in his daily life and it is a major task which belongs to the whole Church. If we neglect this task, we pay heavily in terms of the shallow faith of our Catholics, who are unable to stand their ground against all kinds of attacks,” the cardinal added.
The president of the Nigerian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Benin City Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, said remuneration in the Catholic Church is an issue addressed by canon law, which stipulates that church workers should receive a just wage in line with the civil law.
“We must think seriously about spending on the training of our catechists and their remuneration and social welfare,” the archbishop said.
Noting that catechists were poorly paid, despite the great work that they do, Akubeze said their wages must be raised.
“Let us provide for their welfare. We need to establish a minimum wage for those on full-time and those on part-time,” he said.
Despite the recommendation of the commission, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to introduce the proposal to the country’s legislature.
He is facing opposition from Nigeria’s state governors, many of whom owe back wages to thousands of government workers who are already earning well below the proposed minimum wage.
The Catholic bishops’ conference has said the pay raise is feasible if the waste of the country’s resources is eliminated, or at least substantially reduced.
“We believe that our nation has enough resources to ensure a fair wage to our citizens,” the bishops said in a statement.
“In this respect, we passionately call for a more judicious application of our resources which radically prunes wastages and enforces deep commitment towards a culture of fiscal responsibility.”