Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba has said Nigerian workers were prepared to defend their position on the national minimum wage with whatever it takes.
Wabba spoke yesterday in Abuja when House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said the legislature would avoid anything that could harmful Nigerian workers.
The Speaker assured Labour that the House would do due diligence on a Bill seeking to remove the minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List.
Wabba spoke at a meeting with the Speaker and the leadership of the House when he led some members of the organised labour, including the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), to the meeting.
The NLC president noted what the workers were asking for was that the country should respect the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on minimum wage, which Nigeria is a signatory to.
He dismissed the argument that the inability to pay a uniform wage was the reasons for the demand that the minimum wage be transferred to the Concurrent Legislative List.
According to him, the issue of minimum wage is different from having a uniform wage for workers.
Wabba said: “The fact is that the minimum wage has never been given to workers on a platter of gold. Jigawa, Yobe, Borno started implementing the minimum wage first before others. Rivers State did not until we went there to protest. So, it is not about resources but priority.
“Some of the governors gave us information that they were contacted on this issue and how it was being driven. So, we are working on the basis of information. We are ready to defend our position.
“If we are to start the restructuring of wages, I think it should start from the political class. When salaries were reviewed by 50 per cent in 2011, those of political office holders were reviewed by 800 per cent. So, if it is about ability to pay, it should start from that stage. Our own is only minimum wage while some are collecting maximum wage.”
Wabba argued that Labour was conscious of the fact that “every member has a right to propose a Bill, but we know that we should make laws that are reasonable, while taking on board some of those issues involved, especially the commitment of Nigeria as a sovereign state that has signed these conventions”.
He added: “I must say that the minimum wage is one of the conventions.
“If we allow states to fix their wages, who will fix for the private sector? We are not saying there must be a uniform wage for everybody, but just the minimum. That is why Nigerian workers are at a loss and we felt that this is the first place to table our protest because this is the House of the Nigerian people.
“We don’t have any resource to lobby, but we have our mouths, feet and we are in every constituency. Therefore, we can lobby. We are also aware of the forces behind this Bill and we are determined to defend this right that Nigerian workers have earned in the past 40 years.”
The NLC President said: “Minimum wage in America is per hour and it is described as the lowest wage that is to be paid to a worker, as mandated by a Federal law. States can pay more once the minimum is set. Presently, the national minimum wage in America, which is set by a Federal law, is $7.29.
“States can pay higher, but cannot pay lower. States in America are paying higher. When we had the previous minimum wage, there were states that were paying higher.”
Addressing labour leaders, Gbajabiamila urged Nigerian workers to stop embarking on strikes.
“Please, don’t go on strike again. Please, no more strikes. Help us tell your people that we are for them and we will always be for them. We will not do anything that will hurt the Nigerian people.
“We will do what we need to do and what will be of importance to us. You know our members and you know that we will do the right thing. But you can’t stop from bringing a Bill. Beyond this Bill, there will be other Bills that we will not like and those that don’t have any merit will die a natural death, especially with argument like this.
“Please, let us tarry a while. We have heard you loud and clear. You are allowed to protest. That is what the arcade is there for. If I know a member is doing anything altruistic, I will never allow it.”