TEXT OF A JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS AND TRADE UNION CONGRESS ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS ON MINIMUM WAGE BY THE SENATE HELD ON THURSDAY JULY 18, 2013 AT LABOUR HOUSE, ABUJA
….We welcome you to this Press Conference, which is to address the recent vote on Constitutional amendments carried out by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with particular focus on the attempt to remove the National Minimum Wage from the Exclusive legislative list.
At the Senate gallery a few days ago, we were all witnesses to the opening statement of the Senate President, Mr. David Mark before the ill-fated voting on amendments to the Constitution. Said he: ” I urge all Senators to vote according to their conscience” and at the end of the exercise, he declared: ” Today is a historic day in the history of Nigeria….we have voted for those issues that we think will make democracy to go on and make democracy to mature”.
What an irony! In one breathe, the Senators proposed decentralisation of minimum wage against the people of Nigeria eroding the earning power of vulnerable workers, and at the same time gleefully and overwhelmingly voted for life pension for the leadership of the Senate!
Thus, our Senate has become self-serving and anti-people. Never in the history of this country, not even in the military era, have we witnessed such a charade and travesty on the popular wish of the people as was displayed at the Senate.
For the avoidance of doubt, the propose amendment as passed by the Senate, reads as follows:
1. The National Assembly may make laws for the federation or any part thereof with respect to:
I. prescribing a national minimum wage for federal government employees including minimum wage for all categories of workers in federal establishments and agencies.
II. establishment of a body for the regulation, supervision and enforcement of compliance with minimum wage for the federal government.
2. The House of Assembly may subject to paragraph 1 hereto make laws relating to making laws on issues relating to payment of wages and other emoluments for staff of the civil service of the state, institutions, bodies and agencies established and managed by the Government of the state including local government councils and local government service commissions.
Our Understanding is that:
1. The Federal Government creates minimum wage for federal workers (civil servants) and agencies
2. Section II ostensibly establishes a body for the purpose of section 1 only.
3. The second section gives power to state governments to legislate for the same matter for the states subject to section 1 only.
Thus, two regimes of minimum wage will now exist in Nigeria (federal and state). Government as an employer may have done a duty. What about government as a sovereign authority, socially contracted to all its citizens? Here, we think the Senate has failed the nation.
Also, a vital segment of the society – private sector – has been completely been left out. Are we saying that the private sector can now do as they like in terms of remuneration to its workers?.
Gentlemen of the Press,
You will recall that the outcome of a nationwide constituency consultation carried out by the House of Representatives before debates commenced on the amendments, the Nigerian people had overwhelmingly said a capital NO! to the removal of the National Minimum Wage from the Exclusive to Concurrent List in the Constitution. It is rather scandalous for the Senate, who are representatives of the people to beat their chest and declare that their act which goes against the grain of the people’s interest is “making history” and “maturing democracy”.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to further expose the lack of understanding of our Senators on the concept of a National Minimum Wage.
Without recourse to history and basic appreciation of global practices, the Distinguished members of the Upper Chambers assumed that a minimum wage is a wage review normally carried out by the Federal and State governments, oblivious of the historical and global concept of minimum wage being a benchmark to ensure that vulnerable workers, particularly the unorganised and the unskilled are not unduly exploited by ravenous, selfish and greedy employers and money bags. By their misguided actions, the Senators have not only inadvertently excluded private sector workers from the minimum wage, but grossly violated ILO Convention 131, which the country is signatory to.
The arguments of the now embattled Governors Forum flaunted during negotiations on the National Minimum Wage, which the Senators have now accepted hook line and sinker was that the setting of minimum wage by the Federal Government violated the principle of true federalism. To all intent and purposes, this is ill-informed and at best infantile. They have not only confused themselves with the need as representatives of the people to protect the most susceptible and defenseless workers, but naively politicised the minimum wage with fiscal federalism. If fiscal or financial autonomy were the issue, private firms would not be brought under minimum wage laws anywhere in the world. For example, the Senate needed to be educated that of 194 countries responding on the issue as at 2011, 173 have minimum wage regimes in line with global standards.
It is apparent that the Senate had given in to pressures from selfish and self-serving state governors, of whom remnants of them could be found taking refuge in the Senate after looting state coffers and exploiting poor workers.
While we are disappointed at the action of Senators to encourage continued exploitation of workers and the Nigerian people, we are not surprised at the outcome of this ignoble exercise, as the process unlike that of the House of Representatives was shrouded in secrecy, exclusivity and conspiracy. Even as the Senate ostensibly held a one- day public hearing on the issue, neither the labour movement or critical stakeholders were officially invited.
It may interest the Distinguished members of the Senate to know that views expressed in the Constituency Consultations painstakingly carried out by their counterparts in the House that rejected removal of the minimum wage from the Exclusive to Concurrent List, was later collated with the labour movement and all stakeholders present and the outcome transparently seen by all. That the Senate could go against the popular wish of the people speaks volumes of the electoral process that brought some of them to office. Rather than serve the people who elected them, our Senators have become arrogant, and self-serving in the interest of capital and money bags.
To us, as is the practice globally, Constitution amendment should be made a process-led approach and a bottom up exercise. Short-changing the will of the people through “voting” that deprive workers and working families their hard won and collective patrimony, obliterates the very essence of legislature as the mouth piece of the people.
This attempt to alter the jurisdiction of minimum wage legislation, is an aberration to our quest for democratic governance to reflect people’s aspiration, as it has turned a supposed people’s institution as the Senate into iron law of oligarchy.
As a working class movement, we deplore this attempt by the Senate to tinker with the minimum wage, as it will further segment the labour market in Nigeria and create further confusion in the industrial relations regime, and the entire social dialogue mechanism.
It is pertinent to reiterate that minimum wage fixing has nothing to do with fiscal federalism as taunted by some dubious politicians; rather, it serves as a benchmark upon which other layers of government and the private sector could set standards for their employees.
While we have consistently advocated for the practice of true federalism, politicising the minimum wage issue into the federalism debate merely confuses issues. The concept of a national minimum wage evolved in most countries from the genuine concerns over growing incidences of the working poor and the need to protect the most vulnerable in society.
We believe that as a nation, we need to stay with this tradition. The issue of minimum wage is correctly located in the 1999 Constitution, which ironically is a product of military rule, and should remain that way as there is need to strengthen not weaken the protection to the most vulnerable groups in our nation. We also need to avoid the consequences of developing a segmented labour market that will encourage sporadic and wild cat industrial crisis.
We call on the House of Representatives as the last bastion of our representative governance to side with the people, as they have always done, to ensure that the minimum wage remains in the Exclusive List to protect poor working families against the vagaries of thoughtless and rabid neo-liberal economic policies.
As a response to the challenge posed by the Senate to further exploit and pauperise working families, we call on state councils and the leadership of industrial unions to remain calm and remain focused as we get prepared to address this incipient, but growing impunity in our nation by the political class.
Abdulwahed I. Omar Bobboi B. Kaigama
President, NLC President, TUC