…protest planned wage removal from Exclusive List
NASS to Labour: Lobby your legislators in parliament
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), yesterday, stormed the National Assembly and state Assemblies to demand, among other things, the stoppage of a bill seeking to transfer the Minimum Wage Act from the Exclusive Legislative List to Concurrent Legislative List.
The protests, which held simultaneously across the country, witnessed a large turnout of workers with some warning their representatives not to go near the bill. The protests came on the heels of the sponsorship of a controversial bill which seeks to confer on state governments, the power to determine the minimum wage to be paid to workers under their payroll in their respective states.
The bill, sponsored by Hon. Garba Datti, has scaled second reading in the House of Representatives and has been referred to the House Committee on Constitution Amendment. However, members of the organised labour, who adorned branded attires of various labour unions and brandished placards with various inscriptions, have warned that they would shut down the entire economy if their demand to throw out the bill was not met. Some inscriptions on the placards read, ‘National Minimum Wage is Our Right Don’t Decentralise Workers Right,’ ‘On Minimum Wage We Stand’, ‘No to Minimum Wage on Concurrent List’, ‘Yes to Minimum Wage on Executive List.’
The protesters started assembling at the Unity Fountain Abuja, as early as 7:20 a.m. Thereafter, they proceeded to the National Assembly to officially deliver a document containing their demands to the parliamentarians. Not deterred by the presence of armed security officials blocking the first gate leading to the National Assembly, the protesters forced their way through the gates amidst solidarity songs and chants of Aluta Continua, depicting their anger and frustrations about government’s policies. However, midway to the second gate, an attempt by some lawmakers to stop the procession and address the workers on the road, was met with stiff resistance.
The lawmakers were forced to join the procession up until the crowd got into the arcade of the National Assembly. President of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who accused the politicians of being the problem of Nigeria, wondered how they could have conceived the idea of toying with the minimum wage law.
Wabba said that the National Minimum Wage was a standard legislation endorsed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which the Nigerian Government ratified since 1961. He cited an example with the current President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, who, on assumption of office, caused an upward review of workers’ minimum wage to $15 per hour in that country. Wabba said that rather than lead a progressive and people-oriented leadership, Nigerian politicians were raising false arguments against the National Minimum Wage being on the Exclusive Legislative List. According to him, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige had already clarified that the lawmakers were going in a wrong direction that could attract harsh sanctions from the ILO given the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the ILO Convention 26 on Minimum Wage. Wabba said: “The Bill that seeks to remove the minimum wage from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List is not accepted.
The issue of national minimum wage is a standard set by the ILO and the ILO is the first agency of the United Nations formed in 1919 after the First World War. “Your argument is that because you want federalism, the issue of the national minimum wage should be moved to the Concurrent List; that is wrong.
“In the world today, we have 26 federal nations that have minimum wage in their Exclusive List, including the United States of America. The argument about federalism is false; the argument about the ability to pay is also false. How can we degenerate to the level of removing an issue that the workers have earned through hard labour for 40 years overnight? “The problem of Nigeria is the issue of good governance and that is why we are here and all those issues have been documented in the document we are going to present to the leadership.
“Let me also tell them, you have given us the mandate that if the right thing is not done, the leadership have the right to declare a national strike throughout the entire country. “They want a situation whereby the wages will be decentralised, who then fixes wages for the informal sector if you allow states to try to fix minimum wage? We are going to pray for the politicians; a time will come that the churches and the mosques will pray to actually call down the fire of God to consume the politicians because they are the problem.”
Wabba further demanded that autonomy be given to the local governments, State Houses of Assembly and the Judiciary, to ensure resources of the local government were channelled to address insecurity and the many developmental issues confronting the country. President of the TUC, Comrade Olaleye Quadri, mockingly urged members of the National Assembly to lead by example by taking a decision to receive their salaries from their respective local government area councils. The leadership of the organised labour presented a document containing their demands to the parliament.
House Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, who received the document on behalf of the Speaker House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, advised the labour leaders and Nigerian workers to lobby their respective legislators to “kill” the bill they were protesting against.
“The presentation and recommendation of the Bill was only an opinion and a proposal, but from what I am seeing now it appears to me that the leadership and organised labour are against the Bill and you have your rights and reasons to reject that Bill.
“We will still invite you to the relevant committee, the constitution review committee, to come and make your position formally and members representing your respective communities will be on the ground to do justice to that Bill.
“I can understand that the only thing you want is to kill that Bill. Then we will like to advise, go ahead and lobby the members that you elected, tell them you don’t like that Bill and your elected members will stand for you,” Dogowa said. Also receiving the document on behalf of the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Abdullahi Sabi, appealed to the workers to have confidence in the lawmakers whom he said would do everything possible to ensure that the rights and demands of the workers were respected. “We are going to ensure that we do justice to everything you have brought to us. Wait to see the action,” Abdullahi said. In Kano State, members of the workers’ union, led by the NLC Chairman in the state, Mr. Ado Minjibir, embarked on the protest to the Kano State House of Assembly to vent their displeasure.
In his response, Hon. Hamisu Chidari, the Speaker of the Kano State House of Assembly, assured the workers that their grievance would be looked into. In Lagos, a letter presented to the lawmakers by the state council of the unions said it was the wellconsidered view of the entire workforce in Nigeria that this bill is tantamount to a negation of the efforts of the Nigerian working class in the past 40 years to free itself from the cruel manacles of slave wages, savagery working conditions and slave drivers. Similarly in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the workers declared that any attempt to remove the minimum wage from the Exclusive List was an attempt to enslave Nigerian workers. The workers, who began the protest at the NLC Secretariat, proceeded to Agodi and ended it at the State House of Assembly, where they advised the Oyo State House of Assembly not to be part of the Bill that would return Nigerian workers to slavery.
In Benin City, state chairman of NLC, Sunny Osayande, said the implications of the bill include “license for state governors to drag the country back to the era of ridiculous slave wages which, in the past, had precipitated multifarious industrial crises in different parts of the country.” On its part, the Ondo State House of Assembly assured the organised labour in the state that the proposed bill would be rejected. The Speaker of the Assembly, Bamidele Oleyelogun, gave the assurance in Akure, the state capital while receiving a protest letter from the labour leaders.
In Kaduna, the union members protested from the NLC state secretariat to the Kaduna State House of Assembly, chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards and banners with inscriptions like: ‘Why are our representatives against us?’ ‘Workers create wealth and deserve the best and Next level pay minimum wage now,’ among others. The Enugu protests took a different dimension as the labour leaders threatened to “bury the political career of any federal lawmaker who supports the bill.” The state NLC Chairman, Mr. Virginus Nwobodo, described the bill as anti-workers, saying that “minimum wage is a right and not a privilege”.