By Frank Ikpefan and Tony Akowe, Abuja
Labour has kicked against the bid by federal lawmakers to decentralise minimum wage negotiation.
The House of Representatives bill seeking to remove fixing and negotiation on minimum wage from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List passed second reading on Tuesday.
The intention of the bill sponsored by Garba Datti Mohammed (APC Kano) is to allow both the federal and state governments to freely negotiate minimum wage “with their workers in line with our federalism”.
During the debate at plenary, Mohammed said: “Many states have not been able to implement the national minimum wage because it was imposed on them from Abuja.”
He said the agreement to pay N18,000 as minimum wage met with vehement opposition, “yet while some states were yet to pay it, the wage was raised to N30,000, again, with many states vehemently opposing it”.
He said despite the position of the states, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has continued to advocate that the national minimum wage be the culmination of collective bargaining.
He said: “The resources available to the states also differ and while some states may be able to afford the national minimum wage, others may not.
“The governor of Ebonyi State said the local governments would need to borrow N1 billion to service salaries while some states said they would spend 100 per cent of their earnings to pay salaries.
“Under the Independence Constitution and the 1963 Constitution, prescription of the minimum wage was a concurrent matter to be legislated upon by both the Federal Parliament and the Regions.
“A decentralised minimum wage is justi?able based on several socio-economic variables i.e. local peculiarities — 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 — all these vary from place to place and from state to state.
“In the United States, the minimum wage is a concurrent subject-matter such that in 2018, the minimum wage in 29 states was higher than the federal minimum wage.
“This scenario is also not unlikely in Nigeria as certain states appear to have the capacity to surpass the federal minimum wage.”
He argued: “This decentralisation of the prescription of the minimum wage does not shut the door on labour from negotiating.
“What it means is that labour will have to negotiate with each state to ensure that the minimum wage in each state is reasonable in the circumstances of that state.
“The proposed alteration to the Constitution will inch us closer to true federalism by devolving power from an over-burdened centre to the component states.
“This is an opportunity to resolve the controversies that attend the determination of the national minimum wage once and for all and another step towards devolution of powers”.
Speaking against the passage of the bill, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Wase said states should not be allowed to determine the minimum wage because many of them would take advantage of the situation to pay the workers’ wages that will not take care of them.
Hon. Aminu Suleiman (APC, Kano) expressed shock at the level of support the bill was getting from members.
He said the idea of a national minimum wage is to set a parameter for states to negotiate with their workers, adding that there was the need for the House to remain on the side of the workers.
He said: “If we pass this law, we will be giving states the latitude to do whatever they want. We should have the security of the workers at heart.”
Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas said: “If we pass this bill, we will one day bring another bill to set it aside because the states will abuse it.”
Deputy President of NLC, Comrade Joe Ajaero, accused the federal lawmakers of acting the script of governors.
Ajaero vowed that Labour would resist the move the way it did under Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan’s administrations.
“It is a defeatist approach by the members of the National Assembly probably acting on the promptings of their governors to whittle the powers of the Federal Government and the economic powers of the Nigerian workers.
“It is a kind of deregulation of the minimum wage to the states. If they are removing it from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List there will still be a need for them to move it from Concurrent List to the Residual List as the case may be.
“If we are a federation and federalism is in full operation in this country, you can not deregulate minimum wage under the guise of taking it to the Concurrent List.
“Why are they not thinking of state governments having their state police and other state machineries? Why is it only minimum wage that is worrying them?” he queried.
According to him, without a unified national minimum wage, most workers in the country would be receiving peanuts as wage.
“They are trying to create a very dangerous precedent where a worker or a Nigerian living in Lagos will not be equal to a Nigerian living in Abuja or living in Owerri ( Imo state). Where lies the power of equality before the law?
“I will advise the National Assembly not to allow themselves to be used. For instance, as at the time the minimum wage was increased to N30, 000 the workers in Zamfara state were still receiving as low as N12, 000. They were not even receiving N18, 000 minimum wage.
“What the National Assembly is trying to tell me is that the workers in such state will continue to be poorly paid when their counterparts in other states will do better.
“Labour will reject it because it is against the fundamental principles of federalism.”
TUC President Quadri Olaleye said: “The House was not briefed properly how we got to that stage of having the minimum wage in the Exclusive List and that is why somebody could sponsor such a Bill.
“It shows that some of them are power-drunk. They want to be Alpha and Omega in controlling the lives of workers in their states. The federal government will not allow that; the workers will also mobilise.
“We are going to counter that Bill, it is wrong. I don’t know why anybody who has the interest of workers and Nigerians at heart will propose that kind of a Bill.”