The National Assembly is working on a piece of legislation to decentralize wage fixing. It is the federal government that has been responsible for deciding the national minimum wage. But now, federal lawmakers want state governments to negotiate with their workers what wage to pay.
However, their move has got organized labour up in arms. Last Wednesday, the umbrella labour union, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), rallied against that move in all state capitals. Its president, Ayuba Wabba, addressed hundreds of workers at the National Assembly complex in Abuja. He described removing the national minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List as a declaration of war on Nigerian workers.
He said: “We are here today (Wednesday) to make it clear and unambiguous that the bill that seeks to remove the national minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List is not accepted. If the right thing is not done, the leadership of the NLC will have to declare a national strike.”
The protesters, who marched from the Federal Secretariat to the National Assembly, chanted solidarity songs against the bill, which, according to the sponsor, House member Garba Mohammed (APC, Kaduna), would allow both the federal and state governments to freely negotiate a minimum wage in line with Nigeria’s federalism. Wabba said the national minimum wage was not a Nigerian standard, but an international standard, noting that 26 countries of the world have minimum wage as part of their exclusive legislative list, including the United States.
House of Representatives’ Majority Leader Ado Doguwa and Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi addressed the protesters, assuring them that the National Assembly would not pass any legislation against the interest of Nigerian workers. Abdullahi said the NLC had made its point by staging the protest, adding that the Senate would continue to stand by workers to protect their rights and privileges. For his part, Rep. Doguwa advised leaders and members of organised labour to engage and lobby their representatives in the National Assembly to kill the new bill. “You are in the right hand and in the right place and the right institution which is a representation of the general membership of organised labour in Nigeria,” he told the protesters. “I want to assure you that the House of Reps will give a listening ear to your message… I want to advise, please, lobby members that you elected that you do not want the bill and members will make sure the bill is killed,” he said. However, Wabba said the issue of the minimum wage was not about lobbying the House of Representatives members.
To be sure, the wage issue will always be an emotive one in industrial relations – employers want to keep it as low as they can while labour demands the right for amount of work done. In Nigeria, the present national minimum wage was agreed between the federal government and the NLC and was passed into law in 2019. It will be up for review in 2024.
Now the proposed legislation will make that unnecessary if passed. There will be no central authority fixing a national minimum wage. States will have it all clear to give what they can afford.
Labour is saying that removing the power of the federal government to decide the national minimum wage is “anti workers”. But it is not challenging the power of the National Assembly to make law and change it because this is what it is meant to do. Again, labour must accept that there is no point forcing what cannot be implemented. It is all too obvious many state governments have not paid the N30,000 minimum wage because they could not find the money to pay. Ultimatums came and went without anything giving. Now, perhaps, is the time for labour to accept the reality that the proposed law puts out. The best it can hope for is to be allowed to put forward its viewpoint. A platform has promised for that.