Rethinking the Senate’s Constitution Amendment On Labour ,By Issa Aremu

Aremu2013The famous quote of the 16th US President (1861-65), Abraham Lincoln according to which “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people” was turned upside last week to mean amending the Constitution by the few (109) senators to advance the obscene privileges of a legislative cabal. Nigeria’s 7th Senate in pursuit of crass class interest exclusively approved Life pension for the principal Assembly officials namely; Senate President and Deputy Senate President as well as former Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the House of Representatives while in the same breadth removed the Labour and Pension rights of 85 million Nigerian working men and women from the exclusive list of 1999 constitution with a view of making working life precarious, deregulated and unprotected, certainly not better. Abraham Lincoln who was also credited with the emancipation of the slaves between 1809 and 1865 would have chuckled in his grave to realise that some self serving slave drivers have re-grouped at the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria some 200 years after the emancipation of slaves.
The challenge is whether Nigerian workers would allow the few who claim to have been elected from their respective constituencies to make law for good governance go with such arrogant and insensitive legislative impunity which through constitutional amendment throw the majority to the dogs while shielding their own privileges with constitutional clauses. Removing the basic rights of majority of working people from hitherto mainstream Federal exclusive list and pushing them on the margins of the concurrent states list definitely does violence to the concept of democracy as a majoritarian rule.
The ill informed decision to remove the power of the Federal government to exclusively make law on labour matters also shows the poverty of knowledge among our legislators about labour market issues and their relevance to national development. Minimum wage is only one important labour matters. Others include trade unions, industrial relations, conditions, safety and wefare of working men and women. Nigeria wants to be part of the 20 leading developed economies of the the world. No serious country that is genuinely committed to development agenda would casually step down issues bordering on labour motivation and productivity from national mainstream agenda to some footloose con-current List as chaotic as Nigeria’s states.
World wide the laws which govern labour matters have significant impact on growth and development. Even Lord Lugard recognised the importance of labour as a factor of production and development. The first Federal (note; not state!) Ministry to be established was Federal Ministry of Labour. And that was in 1914. The colonial authority as well as post independent Nigerian governments recognised that labour motivation and productivity was a critical success factor for transformation. Thus all labour laws with respect to trade unions and industrial conflicts were regulated and managed centrally for development. Behind the celebrated miracle of Nigeria’s double digit growth plus development in the 60s and 80s were progressive labour laws regulating minimum wages and pensions as well as collective bargaining and industrial conflicts. With the current high level of unemployment, worsening poverty, unregulated immigration, foreign investment of dubious value and underdevelopment, rampant strikes and industrial conflicts, more than ever before Nigeria needs a Federally managed (not deregulated) labour process sanctioned by the constitution. 1999 constitution commendably retains the progressive legacy of Nigeria’s constitutional process which from independence had always known that labour plays a vital role in the mobilisation of the working people for growth development and thus puts labour on the exclusive list of the constitution. This means only the Federal government can and must legislate on labour matters. This explains why Nigeria’s Labour laws are among the most progressive in the world even with all the challenges of implementations and interpretations. Since the country became independent and a member of the United Nations and subsequently the International Labour Organisation (ILO), being a unique arm of the UN system, Nigeria Labour laws have largely reflected standards set by ILO conventions and recommendations in respect of labour matters. It is significant that even during the military regimes, when draconian labour decrees were made, they were made by the Federal government not deregulated and left to the whims of ever divergent states of the Federation.
The combined effects of these legislations over the years have helped to strengthen the country’s industrial relations system, trade union institutions and have made the unions formidable social partners in national development process.
The latest proposed amendment to step down labour matters to the state and village levels shows that the Senate does not appreciate labour as an “essential and integral part of our national development structure” , an asset to be nationally cultivated for development.
In pursuance of the economic and democratic aspiration of the country, Nigeria must have labour policies that encourage and strengthen national, international, independent, democratic, transparent and accountable trade unions, not fragmented and deregulated labour processs with all the attendant implications for industrial crises. Trade union laws should also be fair, balanced and consistent with ratified ILO conventions. In addition, effective labour administration and freely collective bargaining should be the main determinants of terms and conditions of employment to ensure sustainable industrial peace and equitable reward system. Nigeria must achieve excellent labour management and industrial relations that would promote industrial harmony, tripartism and commitment to work and productivity. All the above can only be possible if labour is treated as an exclusive and important factor of development. The House of Representatives has shown over the years to be more closer to the people. It must retain labour on the exclusive Federal list just like other progressive constitutions of the world. The House must reject the temptation of greed clauses in the Constitution that give life previledges to few Assembly chieftains at the expense of a worsening economy and mass deprivation.
Issa Aremu mni

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