House Refuses Labour’s Quest to Drop Minimum Wage Decentralisation Bill

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By Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu

The organised labour yesterday failed to persuade the House of Representatives to discontinue the consideration of a bill seeking to decentralise minimum wage negotiation.

The two parties, after a meeting in Abuja, failed to reach a consensus on the way forward on the bill which last week made the organised labour to march on the National Assembly and state legislatures to pressure lawmakers to kill the bill.

The bill, sponsored by Hon. Garba Muhammad, seeks to amend Item 34 of the Exclusive Legislative List, which places the subject of prescribing the national minimum wage within the exclusive legislative competence of the National Assembly by virtue of Section 4(2) and (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

At yesterday’s meeting, the lawmakers told the labour leaders to continue their advocacy and wait till the public hearing where they would have the chance to present in details the reasons for their opposition to the decentralisation of minimum wage fixing.

The House also told the labour leaders that they can’t stop a lawmaker from proposing a bill.
However, the labour leaders threatened to continue their protest in all the states of the federation as a first line of action.

They also threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the lawmakers remain adamant on minimum wage decentralisation.

The labour leaders, led by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr. Ayuba Wabba, and the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr. Quadri Olaleye, at the meeting with the leadership of the House, led the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the “toxic and anti-masses bill” should be killed immediately.

Wabba, in a paper presented to the leadership of the House, titled, ‘The Position of Organised Labour on the move to Transfer the National Minimum Wage from Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List,’ said the bill was an attempt by those he described as “a few self-seeking and narrow-minded politicians” to return Nigeria to the era of slave wages, servile work conditions and severe industrial crisis.

He stated: “This is to convey to the House of Representatives and the Nigerian public the great displeasure of the entire workforce in Nigeria over a private member bill moved by Garba Datti Mohammed 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, February 23, 2021, rushed through the first and second readings.

“Currently, the bill has been referred to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution[as amended].”
He described the national minimum wage as the national benchmark minimum below, which no employer of labour should pay a worker.

He added that it is a global standard adopted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention 026 of 1928 and reinforced by Minimum Wage Fixing Convention 131 of 1970.

Wabba said each ILO member-state that adopted the Minimum Wage Convention undertook to establish a system of minimum wage to cover all the economic sectors, including the organised private sector, to determine which wage is to be paid hourly, daily or monthly depending on what the social partners adopt.

He stated that as provided for in ILO Minimum Wage Conventions, Nigeria adopted a monthly wage system through social dialogue.

Wabba explained that Nigeria as a sovereign state ratified Convention 026 of the ILO on June 16, 1961, adding that pursuant to this ratification, the National Assembly apart from listing the National Minimum Wage in the Exclusive Legislative List also domesticated Convention ILO 026 in Chapter 2 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution as amended under Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy expressly demanding that the Nigerian state shall direct its policy towards ensuring the provision of reasonable national minimum living wage and pensions.

Wabba said this made the national minimum wage a federal law binding on the federal government and the sub-national governments.

He noted that the domestication of this law in Chapter 2 of 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, derives from the provisions of Part ll of Chapter One of the constitution, which vests the legislative powers of Nigeria in the National Assembly.

According to him, this punctures a hole in the argument of those seeking to transfer the national minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list.

“How can state legislatures review a law that is not originally within their remit to domesticate? It is, therefore, clear that the move to remove the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list is nothing but a mischievous effort to foster crises, chaos, and anarchy,” he said.

Wabba said the national minimum wage was a product of negotiations between the labour, organised private sector and government, adding that during the negotiations, government was represented at both federal and state levels, where some issues are taken into consideration with data provided by federal and state institutions and agencies.

He said at the end of negotiations, the final outcome on the national minimum wage was reasonable, realistic and implementable, saying precedence shows that ability to pay does not depend on surplus resources but on fiscal discipline, and the will to pay.
According to him, the recent negotiations that produced the current national minimum wage of N30, 000 per month provides a good example of the sound model of social inclusion that the national minimum wage represents.

He stated that since the enactment of the first National Minimum Wage Act in May 1981, states have not been paying uniform salaries as each state has its own salary structure which is developed according to the ability to pay, adding that the different salary structures in the states are completely different from the national minimum wage and the two should never be confused.

Wabba added: “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 about 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 neo-colonisation and mass enslavement of the Nigerian people.”

Responding, Gbajabiamila said labour leaders erred to have castigated the lawmakers over the introduction of a bill seeking to decentralise the minimum wage.

He stated that if labour unions have reservation about the bill, they should wait till the public hearing is held and present their position.

He said: “The fact is that I’m a labour-friendly speaker, and I represent a labour-friendly House. I want us to agree, first of all, that whatever was debated on the issue of a minimum wage, the contributions by each member were well-intended.

“In arresting a piece of legislation, you can do it through advocacy; you can do it through a public hearing. Where I have a problem is casting aspersions on the proponent of the bill or those who spoke for or against it. I feel very bad when a legislator is castigated for doing what he thought was in the best interest of the Nigerian people.

“I want to tell you that we will do what we ought to do. You know me, and you know some of our members. If this hurts the Nigerian people, we’ll do the right thing, but you can’t stop somebody from proposing a bill.

“Mr. President, please, we have heard you loud and clear. Please don’t go on strike again, help us tell your people we are for them.”