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Make your grievances over minimum wage at public hearing, Gbajabiamila tells Organised labour

THE Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has urged organised labour to avail itself of the tool of advocacy in order to register its grievance over the bill seeking to decentralise minimum wage. 

Organised labour could achieve its aim through public hearing when all stakeholders will be available to listen to its arguments against the proposed decentralisation of minimum wage, said Gbajabiamila.

The speaker spoke on Tuesday at a meeting with representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

The meeting was prompted by the unions’ nationwide protest, which took place last week, to kick against the bill seeking to move the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list.

The bill, which was sponsored by Garba Datti, Kaduna lawmaker, has passed first and second reading in the house of representatives.

It seeks to decentralise the payment of minimum wage to workers in the country — the move will allow states to pay according to their financial capabilities.

But speaking yesterday, Gbajabiamila said one of the beauties of democracy is that it gives room for deliberation, urging the leadership of organised labour to make arguments known without resorting to casting aspersions on the sponsor of the bill or any member of the lower chamber.

“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 minimum wage, the contributions by each member, were well intended,” he said.

The Speaker continued, “When we begin to castigate members like that, it doesn’t pay us. No member will come up with something that he knows will be against the 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.

“In arresting a piece of legislation, because we are talking democracy here, you can do it through advocacy; you can do it at the public hearing.

“I had a bill, as the speaker of the house, that suffered the same fate — the infectious diseases bill. It went through a public hearing and now we have removed some things from the bill. We listened to Nigerians and now you won’t find some of those things anymore. I would have loved a situation where you made your case at the public hearing, or through advocacy in the media.”

Gbajabiamila added that if the bill doesn’t receive the support of majority of the lawmakers and Nigerians, it will “definitely” be stood down.

Reacting, Wabba said the NLC and the TUC started mobilising workers against the bill because they believed it would erode the years of progress made in minimum wage negotiations in the country.

The NLC president also noted that while the minimum wage is determined by the national parliament, employers at the sub-national levels are free to negotiate with their workers to pay higher, according to the available resources.

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, “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. 

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