By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The organised labour yesterday secured a major ally in the federal government in its battle against the National Assembly over a bill seeking to decentralise national minimum wage negotiations.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, at the inaugural meeting of the newly-constituted National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) in Owerri, Imo State capital, said the government’s position was based on the need to comply with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 144 to which Nigeria is a signatory, and which seeks to promote tripartite dialogue in the resolution of national minimum wage agitation.
According to the ILO Convention 144, the right of employers and workers to establish free and independent organisations to promote effective consultation and tripartite dialogue at the national level between public authorities and employers’ and workers’ organisations as a means of resolving the industrial dispute is a global standard.
Ngige stated that the federal government would support labour in its agitation against national minimum wage decentralisation because it believed in the principle of tripartite social dialogue.
Apparently responding to the call by organised labour on the federal government to help stand down the bill proposing to move national minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list, Ngige said: “Mr. President of NLC, you didn’t need to thank me for what I said about the minimum wage bill because I was reechoing what the Nigerian government stood for by adopting the ILO Convention 28, the Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention of 1928 (No.26) and the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention of 1970 (No131). From these conventions, the Minimum wage Act was signed in 1981. So, I am with you 100 per cent but I don’t want you to go on strike on that.”
Ngige also spoke on the effects of the global economic crisis and the resultant unemployment challenge in the country, saying that the federal government is tackling the issue, especially job losses.
According to him, as part of efforts to ensure industrial peace, through regular and timely social dialogue, the government has reconstituted the membership of NLAC.
Ngige added that the importance of NLAC include ensuring mutual dialogue between government, private sector employers and workers.
Also, NLAC has a critical role to play in promoting and ensuring best practices of labour administration in line with the international standards.
On the fallout of the current economic and unemployment crises, the minister said: “This government is committed to stemming the current negative effects of the global financial and economic crisis on employment by strengthening the machinery of tripartism and social dialogue in the world of work.”
Ngige said the ministry was pushing for the passage of the Labour Institutions Bill to enhance the status of NLAC and reposition it to effectively discharge its responsibilities.
Earlier, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr. Ayuba Wabba, had welcomed the position of the federal government not to accept moves to remove the national minimum wage from the exclusive list.
He said: “The national minimum wage has been in operation in the last 40 years and has always been mutually renewed by social partners. We consider it an act of great irresponsibility for a state governor to impugn on this long-standing instrument of law for narrow and self-conceited objective.”
Wabba and his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart, Mr. Quadiri Olaleye, used the opportunity to warn against what they described as rising human and trade union rights violations in the country.
They urged the government to widen the social security net for workers and the people in view of the current economic difficulties.
While welcoming participants at the event, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr. Yerima Tarfa, said the meeting of the council was part of government’s strategy to strengthen collaboration between social partners and government at federal and state levels to achieve solutions to labour disputes and enthrone lasting industrial harmony in the country.