…says the protest will continue in States
…threatens to withdraw service if…
…alleges Governors sponsored the bill
…please, don’t go on strike-Speaker
By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja
Organized labour union involving Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC yesterday asked the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila to immediately kill what it described as “anti-masses” bills.
It will be recalled that the unions had last week stormed the national assembly in protest against a bill seeking the removal of the minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list.
Returning to the House for a meeting brokered by the Speaker, the union said that the protest will continue across the federation.
The union also promised to withdraw their member’s service to the nation if the political leadership of the country at various levels continue to keep mute.
The demands of the union were co-signed by NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba and the TUC president, Comrade Quadri Olaleye and conveyed in the address read by Wabba on behalf of the body at the meeting.
Wabba said that the Bill was being sponsored by some Governors.
He said: “This is to convey to the House of Representatives and Nigerian public the great displeasure of the entire workforce in Nigeria over private member bill moved by Garba Datti Mohammed representing Sabora Federal Constituency of Kaduna State.
“We have it on good authority that this bill was sponsored by a few Governors especially the Governor of Kaduna State. The bill seeks the transfer of the National Minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List. The same bill was on Tuesday, 23rd February 2021 rushed through the first and second readings. Currently, the Bill has been referred to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution.
“Organized Labour considers this anti-workers bill as an attempt by a few self-seeking and narrow-minded politicians to return Nigeria to the era of slave wages, servile work conditions and severe industrial crisis.
“Our prayer goes to the leadership of the House of Representatives. We implore that this toxic and anti-masses bill should not enjoy any form of support from the honourable house of the Nigerian people -the House of Representatives. The bill should be killed immediately.
“Organized Labour will continue its current protest in all the states of the federation as the first line of action. Subsequently, if our elected political leaders remain adamant about the plea of Nigerian workers to retain the National Minimum Wage in the Exclusive Legislative List, we will have no other option but to withdraw our services. This will only be the beginning of popular resistance against this agenda of neo-colonization and mass enslavement of the Nigerian people.”
Speaking further, Wabba went down memory lane about the introduction of the minimum wage, asking who would come to the rescue of the private sector if states were allowed to fix their wages.
“We came here to register our displeasure over a bill that seeks to take away the gains of Nigerian workers. It is about removing the national minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. The issues are straight forward. Nigeria is a member nation of the International Labour Organisation which is the first agency of the United Nation and minimum wage is part of the constitution of the ILO.
“The ILO convention 26 which deals with minimum wage is the highest ratified convention as it has been ratified by more than 90 per cent of member nations. It is further complemented by convention 131 of 1970
In Nigeria, we adopted the monthly wage system.
“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.
“We want to appreciate the role the House has played in a previous attempt to remove it from the exclusive list. If you remove the bar, states can be paying N10,000 thereby returning Nigerians workers to the slave era.
“We are ready to defend our position. If we are to start restructuring 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 maximum wage”.
In his remarks, the Speaker of the House, Gbajabiamila said he invited the union to broker peace and discuss terms that could help both the government and the organized labour.
He pleaded with the Union no to go on strike, stressing that they can’t afford to inflict pains on Nigerians.
“I represent a Labour friendly House. On every issue that concerns the Nigerian people, the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives has never been found wanting. So, 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 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 hurt the Nigerian people”, Gbajabiamila pleaded.