The organised labour yesterday vowed to call out its members on a nationwide indefinite strike should the National Assembly go ahead with the bill seeking to move the National Minimum Wage from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List of the Constitution.
The union argued that National Minimum Wage as embedded in the constitution is an internationally recognized standard which has the endorsement of the United Nations, through its agency, International Labour Organisation (ILO).
This is coming as hundreds of members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday organised a one-day protest during which they marched to the National Assembly complex in Abuja and the state Houses of Assembly across the country.
NLC and its affiliates were demanding the withdrawal of the bill by the House of Representatives.
The lawmakers had about two weeks ago introduced the bill which according to the sponsor, Hon. Garba Mohammed, would allow both the federal and state governments to freely negotiate a minimum wage with their workers in line with federalism.”
Speaking yesterday at the protest organised by the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) at the National Assembly complex in Abuja, President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said that over 33 federating nations, including the United States of America, have their Minimum Wage in the exclusive list.
According to him, moving the national minimum wage from the exclusive to the concurrent list is a declaration of war on Nigerian workers.
Wabba said that workers have given the leadership of organised labour the mandate to declare nationwide strike if the right thing is not done.
The bill that seeks to remove the national minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list is not acceptable, Wabba said.
The nationwide protest was organised to protest the bill sponsored by Hon. Garba Datti Mohammed of Sabon Gari Federal Constituency, Kaduna State had passed the 1st and 2nd reading in February 2021.
“The national minimum wage is not a Nigerian standard but an international standard. In the countries of the world, over 33 federating nations including the United States of America have their minimum wage in the exclusive list,” he said.
Wabba made reference to the United States which he said is about reviewing its current minimum wage of $10per hour upwards.
He said that President Biden has already announced plans to initiate an upward review of the minimum wage to $15per hour.
“How can we degenerate to remove the issue that workers have earned through hard labour for 40 years overnight? The problem of Nigeria, we have said in essence, is the issue of good governance.
“That is why we are here. These are all well documented in the documents that we will present to the leadership of the National Assembly,” he said.
The NLC president said state governors are collecting the same salary across the country, the same with state and National of Assemblies as well as the Counselors.
”So, why is the case of workers different, if it is the issue of ability to pay? Governors also collect humongous amount as security votes that have not been used to address security challenges in Nigeria. If we address this, we will have enough to pay the minimum wage. It’s a national benchmark”.
On his part, the TUC president, Mr. Quadri Olaleye urged the National Assembly to leave by example.
“If the National Assembly must take that the decision, all the executives should go back to their Local Governnent to collect their salary, according to their local government revenue generation,” he said.
Both labour leaders presented a protest letter to the House of Representatives through the Majority Leader, Hon. Hassan Doguwa.
Doguwa, while receiving the protest letter on behalf of the Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila commended the organised labour’s leadership for expressing their grievances in the right quarter.
”I want to say that we have accepted the letter presented to us by the organised labour and I want to assure you that we will give it the right treatment.
“We will also provide the window for the people to come and present their grievances through the public hearing,” he said.
The lawmaker explained that the bill in contention is only a proposal, adding that it is quite obvious that the organised labour is against that bill.
“If you are against that bill, you are right and you have every reason to be against that bill. I want to assure that the House of Representatives will see and give a listening ear to your grievances. We will still invite you to come and engage with relevant committees to make your contributions.”
Earlier the protesters, who caused gridlock and carried placards, marched from the Unity Fountain through the Federal Secretariat to the Three Arms Zone before getting to the entrance gates of the National Assembly complex.
The workers also carried their protest to the state lawmakers across the state capitals.
Speaking when the workers marched to the Lagos State House of Assembly, the Chairman of the state chapter of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria, Mr. Gbenga Ekundayo sought the intervention of the Lagos State House of Assembly to put a stop to the bill.
“This minimum wage is not only about the government, it covers every working-class Nigerian and removes the wage from the exclusive list to concurrent is an increase in challenges that we do not need,” he said.
Also contributing, NLC Lagos Chapter Chairman, Dr. Funmi Agness Sessi argued that Nigerians are not happy with government policies as they tend to hurt the people especially on the matter of the minimum wage bill.
After listening to their grievances, Hon. Solaja-Saka Nurudeen, who is a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly gave kudos to the NLC Lagos State Chapter for their comradeship in the fight for justice and common interest of the people, and assured them that their message will be delivered to the appropriate quarters.
The Adamawa State chapter of NLC and its affiliates unions also joined the protest.
While speaking at the State House of Assembly, the state chairman of NLC, Mr. Emmanuel Fashe who spoke on behalf of the organised labour, said the bill if passed, would undermine the working class in the country.
The protesters marched through the police roundabout to state assembly complex to express their grievances to the state legislature.
Their movement caused serious gridlock, forcing motorists to seek alternative routes.
The Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Aminu Abbas said the lawmakers will look into their petition and do justice to it.
The Plateau State NLC and TUC also joined the protect yesterday.
The state NLC Chairman, Mr. Sunday Akin delivered their protest letter to the Speaker of the House of Assembly Mr. Abok Ayuba.
Responding, the Speaker who thanked the workers for conducting themselves peacefully, explained that “Amendment of law is a process; it must pass through the two chambers of the National Assembly before its gets to state Houses of Assembly.
“When it comes to us, we will call stakeholders and discuss with you before we take a position.”
In Kaduna State, the state Chairman of NLC, Mr. Ayuba Magaji Suleiman led the protesters to the state House of Assembly.
Presenting the workers’ request to the Speaker of Kaduna State House of Assembly, Hon. Yusuf Ibrahim Zailani, the NLC chairman said, National Minimum Wage should not be decentralised.
“It is a shame that the member representing Sabon Gari Federal Constituency of Kaduna State, Hon. Garba Datti Babawo, sponsored the anti-workers’ bill seeking to remove minimum wage from the exclusive list,” he said.
The Chairman House Committee on Appropriation and Finance, Hon. Mohammed Ahmed who received the protesters on behalf of the Speaker of the House assured that the lawmakers will always protect workers’ interest.
Kano State chairman of the NLC Chairman, Mr. Kabiru Minjibir, led the workers in the protest.
Bayelsa State Chairman of NLC, Mr. Bipte Ndiomu, also led the workers in the protest to the state assembly complex.
Ndiomu, who presented a letter to Bayelsa State House of Assembly during the protest said the bill negate the gains the Nigerian working class had made in last 40 years to free workers from slave conditions by their employers.
Responding, the Speaker, Hon. Abraham Ingobere, expressed support for the position of the workers.
Ingobere was represented by Hon. Ebiowou Koku-Obiyal, representing Yenagoa Constituency 2.
Also addressing the workers, the Speaker of Ogun State House of Assembly, Hon. Olakunle Oluomo, promised to support the workers, who were led by the Chairman of the state chapter of the NLC, Mr. Emmanuel Bankole.
Addressing journalists during the protest, the acting chairman of NLC in Abia State, Comrade Eze Idima said the protest was necessary to save workers from uncertain future if state governments were allowed to decide what to pay their respective workers.
“We came to express our feelings and rejection for removal of minimum wage from exclusive list to the concurrent legislative list,” he said.
Speaking when he led members of the organised labour in a peaceful protest to the state House of Assembly in Enugu, the state chairman of the NLC, Comrade Virginus Nwobodo said the move is a plan to subject Nigerian workers to perpetual hardship.
Also speaking during the protest, the State TUC chairman, Comrade Ben Asogwa maintained that workers in Nigeria will resist every attempt to pass the bill.
Addressing the protesters outside the Assembly Complex, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Edward Ubosi, said the state government would continue to protect the interest of the workers.
Ubosi who was represented by his Deputy Speaker, Hon. Uche Ugwu, said the state Assembly will not engage in any activity that will jeopardise the already existing peace between the state government and the workers.
The Oyo State NLC Chairman, Comrade Martins while addressing members of the state House of Assembly, said the implication of transferring the minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list is that it will be a license for state governors to drag the country back to the era of ridiculous slave wages.
On his part, the TUC Chairman, Mr. Ogundiran said the National Assembly wants to throw Nigerian masses back to the slavery era.
In his response, the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Abiodun Fadeyi, said the bill will not fly in the house, describing the bill as obnoxious, anti-workers and not-too-friendly.
Katsina State NLC Chairman, Mr. Hussaini Hamisu, also led the workers, who marched through the major streets in Katsina metropolis to the State House of Assembly where they submitted their protest letter to the lawmakers.
Responding, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Tasi’u Maigari assured the determination of the assembly to spare no effort to look into the workers’ demand
The workers also organised protests in Ebonyi, Sokoto, Niger, Osun, Ondo, Kogi, Edo and Ekiti states.