Minimum Wage: We 'll Defend Our Position - Labour
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President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba said on Tuesday that Nigerian workers were prepared to defend their position on the issue of the national minimum wage, no matter what it takes.
Wabba spoke just as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said the legislature will not do anything that will be harmful to the Nigerian worker, assuring that the House will do due diligence on the bill introduced to the House seeking to remove minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list.
Speaking at a meeting with the Speaker and the Leadership of the House Comrade Wabba who led some members of the organized Labour, including the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to the meeting said what the workers are asking for is that the country respects the ILO convention on minimum wage which they are signatory to.
He dismissed the argument of inability to pay a uniform wage as reasons for the demand that the issue of a minimum wage be transferred to the concurrent legislative list, pointing out that the issue of a minimum wage was quite different from uniform wage for workers.
He emphasized that states with the least resources have always been the ones to pay the minimum wage first, stressing that the ability to pay has nothing to do with lack of resources, but lack of priority on the part of the governors.
He said “the fact is that minimum wage has never been given to workers on a platter of gold. Jigawa, Yobe, Borno started implementing the minimum wage first before others; Rivers state did not until we went there to protest. So, it is not about resources, but priority.
“Some of the governors gave us information that they were contacted on this issue and how it was been driven. So, we are working on the basis of information. 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 was reviewed by 50 percent in 2011, that of political office holders was reviewed by 800 percent. So, if it is about the ability to pay, it should start from that stage. Our own is only minimum wage while some are collecting maximum wage.”
Wabba argued that Labour was conscious of the fact that “every member has a right to propose a bill, but we know that we should make laws that are reasonable while taking on board some of those issues involved especially the commitment of Nigeria as a sovereign state that has signed these conventions and I must say that the minimum wage is one of the conventions.
“If we allow states to go and fix their wages, who will fix for the private sector. 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 felt that this is the first place to table our protest because this is the House of the Nigerian people.
“We don’t have any resources to lobby, but we have our mouth, feet and we are in every constituency and therefore we can lobby. We are also aware of the forces behind this bill and we are determined to defend this right that Nigerian workers have earned in the past 40 years”.
The NLC President disclosed that “Minimum wage in America is per hour and it is described as the lowest wage that is to be paid to a worker as mandated by federal law. States can pay more once the minimum is set and presently, the national minimum wage in America which is set by federal law is 7.29 dollars.
“States can pay higher, but cannot pay lower and states in America are paying higher. When he had the previous minimum wage, there were states that were paying higher.
“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. National Bureau of Statistics, the CBN and other agencies provided the data that were used and at the end of the day, a consensus was arrived.
“What happened is that when you fix the minimum, states will then go and discuss with their workers because what we are setting at the national 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.”
Addressing the Labour leaders, Gbajabiamila appealed to organized Labour to stop embarking on strike, saying “please don’t go on strike again. Please, no more strikes. Help us tell your people that we are for them and we will always be for them. We will not do anything that will halt the Nigerian people.
“We will do what we need to do and what will be of importance to us. You know our members and you know that we will do the right thing. But you can’t stop from bringing a bill. Beyond this bill, there will be other bills that we will not like and those that don’t have any merit will die a natural death especially with arguments like this.
“Please, let us tarry a while. We have heard you loud and clear. You are allowed to protest. That is what the arcade is there for. If I know a member is doing anything altruistic, I will never allow it.”
While cautioning the Labour Leaders against casting aspersion on the sponsor of the bill and those who spoke against it, Gbajabiamila said “when issues like this comes up, we should agree to disagree and make our point, make compelling argument 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. Somebody brought a bill, I believe was coming from the point of view that states are always having problems in paying salaries and the President has to give states money to pay off workers.
“So, many have argued that it is only the states that know their purse. That was the argument of those who proposed the bill and the argument can be interrogated and nor for the federal to fix salaries which at the end of the day, states cannot pay. That was the argument which may be valid are may not be valid.
“The process of lawmaking is very elaborate and long. In arresting a piece of legislation, you can do it through advocacy and through a public hearing. So, where I had a problem was casting aspersion on proponents of the bill or those who spoke on it. We cannot all agree all the time. So, there are cases you have to make your case through a public hearing.
“You have made some compelling arguments which are some of the things we want to hear. There is no way I can fault that. You have spoken about the rationale of having the minimum wage on the exclusive list.
“But let us hear from the other side, even if it is erroneous. 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”.
Sponsor of the bill, Hon. Garba Mohammed Datti said he was only carrying out his legislative duties by sponsoring the bill, adding that he has nothing against Nigerian workers or organised labour.
Datti who said he has accepted all the aspersions cast on him by workers as a result of the bill said having sponsored the bill; it was left for the House to pass it.
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