The leadership of the House of Representatives, on Tuesday, begged organised workers not to embark on a nationwide strike over the crisis trailing the bill which seeks to remove the minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List.
The Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, gave the charge in Abuja, during a meeting Presidents of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Trade Union Congress (TUC) ahead of the proposed public hearing on the removal of Minimum Wage from Exclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List, which was sponsored by Hon Datti Mohammed.
The Speaker who argued that those who debated for or against the proposed bill, spoke on what they felt was in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerian workers, urged the organised labour not to embark on strike.
“I want us to 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 what they felt was in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerian workers. We may agree to disagree.
“We are in a democracy in which labour is an essential part because, without labour, I don’t know what kind of democracy we will be practising. I invited you so that we could discuss the procedures. When issues like this come up, we should agree to disagree and make our point, make a 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 that 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. 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 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.
“Please don’t go on strike again. Please, no more strikes. Help us tell your people that we care for them and we will always be for them. We will not do anything that will halt the Nigerian people,” the Speaker urged.
In his remarks, NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, urged the House to jettison any form of legislation that would make State Governments turn Nigerian workers into slave era by paying N10,000 monthly wage.
He said: “When we 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 arrived.
“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 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 structure based on negotiation and the 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.
“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 be 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.
“We want to appreciate the role the House has played in previous attempts to remove it from the exclusive list. If you remove the bar, States will be paying N10,000 thereby returning Nigerians workers to the slave era.”
He maintained that “States with least resources are the ones that started paying the minimum wage and the fact is that minimum wage has not been given to workers on a platter of gold. Jigawa, Yobe, Borno started implementing the minimum wage. Rivers did not until we went there to protest. So, it is not about resources, but a priority.
“Some of the governors gave us information that they were contacted on this issue and how it was being driven. 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 were reviewed by 50 per cent in 2011, that of political office holders was reviewed by 800 per cent. 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 a maximum wage,” he noted.
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