Labour threatens to shut down economy over proposed legislation on minimum wage

Workers, under the aegis of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), have threatened to shut down the economy if the House of Representatives passes a bill intended to move the minimum wage legislation from Exclusive List to Concurrent List.

The National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, who led hundreds of members to the House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 10, vowed that the organised labour would resist the passage of the proposed legislation.

The Bill, sponsored by Mr. Garba Datti Muhammad, scaled second reading at plenary of the House of Representatives presided by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.

It seeks to alter the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to, among others, transfer the subject matter of minimum wage prescription from the exclusive legislative list, set out under Part I of the second schedule, to the concurrent legislative list set out under part II of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, Guardian reports.

Datti argued that the Bill, referred to the House ad hoc Committee on the Review of the Constitution for consideration, was part of the measure required to ensure true federalism and devolution of powers in the country.

The lawmaker had argued that it was improper for the Federal Government to impose the N30,000 minimum wage on states whose means of income and resources differ.

He said if the bill sails through, the recurring labour conflicts between the government and labour unions would be nipped in the bud as labour unions can negotiate wages for their members in their respective states.

According to him, under the Independence and 1963 Constitutions prescription of minimum wage was a concurrent matter to be legislated upon by both the National Assembly.

He also contended that a decentralised minimum wage was necessary to reflect socio-economic variables such as differences in the cost of food, the cost of transportation, the cost of children’s education, the cost of health care services, rent or the cost of housing.

He referred to the United States, where, according to him, the minimum wage is a concurrent subject-matter. He recalled that in 2018, the minimum wage in 29 U.S. states was higher than the federal minimum wage.

However, Nigerian workers were not in support and they protested this while quoting the Constitution to support their position.

NLC National President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said the decision to vest in the Federal Government the power to fix minimum wage was in tandem with international best practices, he blamed bad governance for the problem associated with the non-implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage.

He said: “I also know governors collect the same salary across the country, councilors, members of state and National Assembly collect the same salary, so why is the case for workers different?

“Governors collect humongous security votes that have not been used to address the issues of insecurity in the country. If we reduce all of these, I am sure we would have more than enough to pay minimum wage. Minimum is minimum. It is a national benchmark.

“This is our first port of call and therefore they represent every Nigerian. Every constituency is represented. It is my honour and privilege to hand over our letter of protest on behalf of Nigerian workers to the Senate President and Speaker of the House.”

In his response, the Speaker of the House of Representatives told Wabba that a final decision on a Bill on the issue had not been made yet.

Represented by the House Leader, Mr. Ado Doguwa, he assured workers that the House would not wish away the position of the organised labour on the proposed legislation, according to Guardian.

He said: “There would be an opportunity for you to come and address us through public hearings. That initiative is only an opinion. The recommendation of that Bill is only a proposal. From what I am seeing now, it is clear that organised labour are against that Bill. I want to assure you that the House of reps would give a listening ear to your message.

“We will still invite you to come and engage with relevant committees of which I am a member. You will come and make your position fully. Your position will be heard at the committee level and when we come to plenary to consider the bill, members that are representing your respective communities, engage with them to do justice to that Bill.”