ORGANISED labour and its civil society allies across the country on Wednesday marched to the various legislative arms to express opposition to planned removal of national minimum wage matters from the exclusive to the concurrent legislative list.
In Abuja, the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) led thousands of workers who marched to the National Assembly to express their resistance to the move to lawmakers on the bill which scaled second reading at the House of Representatives last February.
Sponsor of the bill, Hon Garba Mohammed, APC, who represents Sabon Gari Federal Constituency of Kano State, is arguing that the bill is to allow both the federal and state governments to freely negotiate minimum wage in line with federal principles.
If passed into law, the issue of a national minimum wage will be eliminated giving room to both the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly to legislate on wages for federal and state workers. It may also create a lacuna for private sector workers operating in both federal and state economies.
At Wednesday’s protest in Abuja, workers in their thousands, gathered at the National Assembly arcade where labour leaders took turns to lambast the plan, with many of them insisting that unless the proposed bill is stepped down, workers will go ahead to shut down the economy nationwide.
Many of the protesting workers carried placards with diverse inscriptions that read: “No To Relocation Of Minimum Wage To Concurrent List,” “On National Minimum Wage We Stand,” “Yes To Minimum Wage On Exclusive List,” “Don’t Distablise Nigeria,” Give Us New Minimum Wage,” “Wage Theft: Crime Against Workers, Crime Against Humanity,” “Minimum Wage: We Stand With NLC Leadership,” among many others.
For the Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, who at various times articulated workers grievances in pidgin as well as conventional English, the current N30,000 national minimum wage is too little to meet the needs of the average worker, especially in the context of existing economic realities.
Describing the bill as an attempt by some lawmakers to undermine Nigeria’s working class, Wabba said national minimum wage is a standard set by the ILO, ratified and practiced by member countries around the world.
He argued that as against the argument contained in the bill, and has always been pushed by governors, political office holders all over the country, especially the governors, are operating under the same salary scale, while they have consistently argued against the meagre national wage set for workers.
While stating that Europe is considering a unified minimum wage for the European Union in view of its relevance to stemming the tide of migration, Wabba called on President Buhari not to undo a progressive legacy set in the second republic by then President Shehu Shagari, and Governors Balarabe Musa and Abubakar Rimi of Kaduna and Kano States respectively.
On his part, Comrade Quadri Olaleye, TUC President, treaded on the same arguments by his NLC counterpart and condemned the failure of some state governors who have up to now failed to implement the N30 thousand minimum wage.
The labour leaders eventually presented joint letter of demand signed by Comrades Wabba and Olaleye to Senate’s Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi and House Majority Leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa, both of whom promised to relay workers’ concerns to the leadership of NASS.
Meanwhile, the protest held in various states across the country with organised labour in Lagos threatening that they are battle ready and would shut down the country if the bill is not stepped down from legislation.
“As organised labour, we are ready to resist that bill, shut down the National assembly and if need be, shut down the entire nation for this course. This is what we are saying in clear terms, unequivocally and we are not mincing words,” Comrade Gbenga Ekundayo, Lagos State Chairperson of TUC) said.
In the rally massive rally which had an estimated 2,500 participants, Comrade Ekundayo said the country should prepare for a “mega strike” and intense protests if the lawmakers refuse to the needful.
He said rather thinking creatively to help the poor overcome their challenges, the leaders are instead devising means to perpetually “kill and impoverish Nigerians,” adding that the implication of the bill is to pay salaries that will ultimately not sustain families at the lower levels of government.
He warned that by the time the minimum wage is removed from the exclusive list to the concurrent list, private employers will be at liberty to do what they like. “Instead of bringing obnoxious bills like these, leaders should become creative and that is what we demand of them,” Comrade Ekundayo stressed.
On her part, Chairperson of the Lagos State Chapter of NLC, Comrade (Mrs) Agnes Sessi Funmilayo, said workers will do everything possible to ensure that the bill is truncated.
“The organised sectors have been talking about jaw-jaw and not war-war, but with that bill, if the National Assembly members do not do the needful and just step it down, this will be the beginning of the war. We are sitting on the keg of gunpowder in Nigeria. People are hungry, people are tired, people are angry. They are taking all the rights and privileges from us, flaunt wealth in our faces, throw our money around and corruptly enriching themselves and their children. We are ready for war,” Comrade Funmilayo said.
She described Hon. Datti as “a wicked man” and called on his constituents to start the process of recalling him from the National Assembly. “He is a very shameless and unpatriotic Nigerian for what he has done. We hate the bill he has sponsored, we want to state it categorically that they have pushed us to the wall, the masses and the workers. We will resist them with the last drop of blood in our body.
“We are beginning to be fed up in this country, what we saw during the #EndSARS is going to be like a child’s play if this bill goes on and those we call our leaders decide to see it to the third reading,” Comrade Funmilayo said, adding that workers in Nigeria have the right to a living wage, and the current minimum wage does not reflect that because it is a “starvation wage.”
“We will resist the wicked, unpopular, and death policy with all the blood in our veins,” she said.
Reports from Minna, Makurdi, Enugu, Kano, Ibadan and other state capitals across the country indicate impressive turnout by workers and members of civil society allies who marched to the various houses of assembly to deliver the letter of demands.