Labour got a major ally yesterday in the Federal Government on their opposition to the planned re-classification of minimum wage negotiation.
It joined the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to reject moves by the federal lawmakers to remove the national minimum wage from the Exclusive to the Concurrent List.
The House of Representatives through a Bill sponsored by Hon. Garba Datti Muhammad, initiated move to remove the powers to negotiate the minimum wage from the Federal Government.
The bill has passed second reading in the House.
The move has pitted the national lawmakers against organised labour in the country with the NLC threatening to embark on a nationwide protest to the National Assembly and Houses of Assembly from Wednesday.
The Second Schedule II of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) gives the Federal Government the powers to negotiate wage for workers in the country.
Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige explained that a national minimum wage was necessary to protect the most vulnerable; the lowest paid person in the country.
He wondered why the federal lawmakers would embark on such constitutional amendment when Nigeria had domesticated some of the International Labour Organisation Conventions.
Ngige said: “Although the discussions were rigorous, but it is part of the International Labour Organisation’s Principles on social dialogue between employers and employees. There is nothing odd about it.
“The issue of national minimum wage is something that the ILO has about two Conventions on. There is Convention 26 – which Nigeria has domesticated and put in as one of the Conventions on treaties that we have adopted. There is also Convention 123 on national minimum wage. The Convention 26 was adopted in 1961.
“So, for us at the executive and being member of the United Nations and the ILO is a UN agency, we do not see anything wrong in national minimum wage being on the Exclusive Legislative List. It is so in about the 170 countries of the ILO that have domesticated the different conventions.
“The idea of a national minimum wage a lot of people misconstrue it. The national minimum wage means the lowest of compensation you can give to any worker working in the private sector or in the public sector. If it is in the public sector for example, it is Grade Level one step one; the lowest person, the most vulnerable person at work both in the private and public sector. You can do more than that in your own establishment or work if you are very buoyant.
“For me, I don’t understand all the hullabaloo about it. Some state governments pay more than N30, 000 as we speak today for the lowest paid worker. What I think some people are misconstruing as minimum wage is the consequential adjustments that follow it. This consequential adjustment is where you will now bargain with your workers; that is where you do social dialogue to agree on the movement of Grade Level one Step two, Grade Level two step one; grade level three step one to the bar till grade level 17; these are the levels that have consequential adjustments.
“You discuss it, you negotiate it with the labour negotiating council in your state. If it is an establishment you negotiate it with the workers union and when you are doing that negotiation, capacity and ability to pay come into play.
“But you need to do a national minimum wage to protect the most vulnerable; the lowest paid person as compensation. You can do so by fixing it on an hourly basis; or daily pay – what the person will get or what the person will get in an hour and you can also do so on a weekly or monthly basis. Nigeria has adopted the monthly basis system.
“They should not confuse the two things. The the consequential adjustments and the minimum wage itself are not the same thing.”
The minister said it would be difficult for the federal lawmakers to successfully amend the constitution to remove wage matters from the federal government.
He said: “I don’t understand it. It is a constitutional issue. For that (removal of the wage from Exclusive Legislative List) to be done it will be done as a constitutional amendment but you don’t do a constitutional amendment in a way that the world will be laughing at you and doubting whether you know what you are doing.
“You don’t do a constitutional amendment to vitiate something that the United Nations body – the ILO had prescribed which you accepted and domiciled in the same National Assembly because all conventions are sent to the NASS and made part of our laws.
“It will be very incongruous for them to go on that route even though I know that it will be a Herculean task for it to be amended because after the two chambers have agreed on it; but for now the House of Reps has sent its own to their Constitution Review Committee it has not come to the senate. Such a bill is not in the senate.
“It is after both chambers have agreed that it will now be sent to the states and they will need 24 houses of assembly which is two third to also pass it. Same way they will also need two third in any of the chambers to pass that amendment as a constitutional amendment.”
These are difficult hurdles. I don’t know how they intend to do it.”
Ngige said it was strange that state governors were refusing to obey the national minimum wage law.
Organised labour had accused some governors of being behind the move to reclassify the minimum wage.
The minister noted that during negotiations, state governors were duly represented, leading to the adoption of N30, 000 minimum wage.
Ngige said: “They (state governors) cannot do so. It is a national law that has already been passed. The deal has been sealed and the governors participated. It is not that they didn’t participate as they are claiming. They had representatives.
“They had Imo state governor who represented governors in the Southeast, they had the governor of Kebbi who represented the Northwest; they had former governor of Gombe, Ibrahim Dakwambo who represented the Northeast; the Southsouth was represented by Rivers state deputy governor on the national minimum wage committee and that committee met for a year and a half and the governors forum was represented and the report was presented to them and it went to the National Economic Council which is made up of the 36 state governors and it came to Council of State. I presented it there and from Council of State we arrived at N30, 000 which was presented to the National Assembly.
“There was enough dialogue on the wage issue. So, anybody backing out now I don’t understand it.”