The organised labour has again criticised political office holders over a bill which seeks remove minimum wage negotiations from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list.
The National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, during a meeting between the House of Representatives leadership and labour leaders on Tuesday, said restructuring of wages should start with political office holders.
At the meeting were the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila; Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; Deputy Majority Leader, Peter Akpatason; sponsor of the bill, Garba Datti Muhammad; and representatives of relevant committees of the House.
Leading the labour side were Wabba and President of the Trade Union Congress, Quadri Olaleye.
Recall that workers, under the aegis of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress, on Wednesday last week, held a nationwide protest against the bill.
The sponsor of the bill, Mohammad, had, at plenary on February 23, argued that it would allow both the federal and state governments to freely negotiate the minimum wage “with their workers in line with our federalism.”
But reiterating workers’ opposition to the bill on Tuesday, Wabba stated, “We are ready to defend our position. If we are to start restructuring of wages, I think it should start from the political class. When salaries were reviewed by 50 per cent in 2011; those of political office holders were reviewed by 800 per cent.
“So, if it is about ability to pay. It should start from that stage. Our own is only the minimum wage while some are collecting the maximum wage.”
Currently the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, which fixes salaries and allowances of political office holders, has a uniform package for governors irrespective of the financial status of their states. The same thing applies to commissioners and speakers of state houses of assembly.
Wabba, while faulting the argument that decentralisation of minimum wage would advance true federalism and restructuring, stated, “In the lexicon, I know that what we have is only federalism. There is nothing like true federalism.”
According to him, the United States of America, which has truly federal states, still maintains a central minimum wage.
He said some states were paying higher than the national minimum wage in the US, adding that some states in Nigeria also paid higher than the old N18,000 minimum wage.
The NLC president noted that Nigeria is a member of the International Labour Organisation, which is the first agency of the United Nations.
According to him, the minimum wage is part of the constitution of the ILO.
He said, “In Nigeria, we adopted the monthly wage system. In 1981 when the first minimum wage was promulgated, it was agreed by social partners that the monthly wage system be adopted by Nigeria.
“We have heard an argument that to encourage true federalism, the minimum wage should be removed from exclusive list.
“When we negotiated the last minimum wage, we had six governors representing the governors and we received memos from all the states and some states even quoted N40, 000. The National Bureau of Statistics, the Central Bank of Nigeria and other agencies provided the data that were used and at the end of the day, a consensus was arrived at.”
The NLC president also stated, “What happens is that when you fix the minimum, states will then go and discuss with their workers because what we are setting at the national level is just the minimum. There is a difference between negotiating consequential adjustment and the minimum wage.
“As we speak, all the 36 states have different salary structures based on the negotiation and ability to pay. This has been the process over the years. This issue is about the sovereignty of Nigeria as a nation because it is the country that will be held responsible and not the sub-national.
“We are saying that the minimum wage can only be legislated upon by the National Assembly which has been the tradition. Also, it is important to inform the members that once a convention is ratified, it is binding on the member country and not the sub-national.”
Wabba wondered who would fix the wage for the private sector if states were allowed to fix their wages. “We are not saying there must a uniform wage for everybody, but just the minimum. That is why Nigerian workers are at a loss and we feel that this is the first place to table our protest because this is the House of the Nigerian people,” he said.
Gbajabiamila, in his response, pointed out that lawmakers had the constitutional right to present bills and motions.
He urged the organised labour to either lobby representatives through their constituencies or articulate their arguments for presentation at the public hearing to be held on the bill or take them to public advocacy through the media.
The Speaker noted that those who had spoken for and against the bill had raised valid points, which should not be dismissed by either of the sides.
He also stated that the House would ensure that the final decision on the bill would be in the best interest of workers and Nigerians in general.
Gbajabiamila said, “I represent a labour-friendly House. On every issue that concerns the Nigerian people, the National Assembly, most especially the House of Representatives, has never been found wanting.
“So, I want us all to first of all agree that whatever the issue is on the minimum wage, whatever was proposed, whatever was debated, those who debated for or against, every single person that spoke on the floor was well intended. Everybody spoke for or against in what they felt was in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerian workers. We may agree to disagree. We are in a democracy of which labour is an essential part because without labour, I don’t know what kind of democracy we will be practising.
“When issues like this come up, we should agree to disagree and make our point, make compelling arguments and make our representatives see the reasons why this is not the way it should go. Nobody is a fountain of knowledge. So, when we debate a bill, we say we are debating the merit and demerit and that was what happened.
“For the proponents of this bill, they are of the point of view that we have always had problems. The President had to come in and had to give states money to pay workers. So, many have argued that it is only the states that will know their purse. That was the argument of those who proposed the bill and the argument could be interrogated.
“Or what is the point of the federal fixing a minimum wage salary and at the end of the day, states cannot pay? How do you compel them? Why not make them pay what they know they can pay? That was the argument which may be valid are may not be valid.
“In arresting a piece of legislation, you can do it through advocacy. You can do it through public hearing. I had a bill as Speaker of the House that suffered the same fate: the Infectious Diseases (Control) Bill. When it went through public hearing, we listened to some of the things Nigerians were saying, and you won’t find those things in the bill anymore. That is the process.
“Where I had a problem was to cast aspersions on proponents of the bill or those who spoke for it. We may have differences in opinions but we are on the same page. We cannot all agree all the times. So, I will want a situation where you will make your case either through the public hearing or advocacy in the media. This is what is done in most advanced democracies.”
The Speaker lamented that those against the bill were launching personal attacks on the sponsor and supporters of the bill.
He said, “Now, the President of the NLC has made some compelling arguments. These are the kind of arguments we want to hear. I don’t know how I can fault that. You talked about the ILO. You talked about this and that. You talked about the rationale for having minimum wage on the exclusive list. It will be difficult to oppose that.
“But then, let us hear the other side. I felt very bad when the legislator is castigated for doing what he thought – even if it is erroneous – was in the best interest of the Nigerian people. I just want to implore you. So, you have to make your case through public hearing.
“We will make sure that this bill gets adequate attention. You have obviously done your own work. When we begin to castigate a member, the member stands in jeopardy and even in danger and some unforeseen things can happen.”
Meanwhile, the organised labour has alleged that Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State is behind the minimum wage bill.
The NLC and the TUC made the allegation in their petition to the Speaker of the House, a copy of which was made available to journalists on Tuesday.
The President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba; and the President of the TUC, Quadri Olaleye, presented the petition after a meeting with the leadership of the House.
It was titled ‘The position of organised labour on the move to transfer the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list.’
The petition read in part, “This is to convey to the House of Representatives and Nigerian public the great displeasure of the entire workforce in Nigeria over private member bill moved by Garba Datti Mohammad, representing Sabora Gat Federal Constituency of Kaduna State.
“We have it on good authority that this bill was sponsored by a few governors, especially the Governor of Kaduna State.
“The bill seeks the transfer of the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list. The same bill was on Tuesday, 23rd February, 2021, rushed through the first and second readings. Currently, the bill has been referred the ad hoc committee on the Review of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution.
“Organised Labour considers this anti-workers’ bill as an attempt by a few self-seeking and narrow-minded politicians to return Nigeria to the era of slave wages, servile work conditions and severe industrial crisis.
“Our prayer goes to the leadership of the House of Representatives. We implore that this toxic and anti-masses bill should not enjoy any form of support from the honourable house of the Nigerian people – the House of Representatives. The bill should be killed immediately.
“Organised labour will continue its current protest in all the states of the federation as a first line of action.
“Subsequently, if our elected political leaders remain adamant to the plea of Nigerian workers to retain the national minimum wage in the exclusive legislative List, we will have no other option but to withdraw our services.
“This will only be the beginning of popular resistance against this agenda of neocolonisation and mass enslavement of the Nigerian people.” – Punch.