By Bimbola Oyesola
Workers across the country, yesterday, trooped out en-masse to picket National Assembly in Abuja and other 36 states House of Assemblies over plan to move minimum wage from the Exclusive List.
The protesting workers issued a fresh threat to shut down the National Assembly and the entire country should the lawmakers fail to step down the bill sponsored by Garba Datti Mohammed, representing Sabon Gari Federal Constituency of Kaduna.
The National Assembly leadership has arranged a meeting with the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) next week Tuesday to discuss the way forward.
The bill has passed through first and second readings. The bill seeks the transfer of the National Minimum Wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List. Currently, the bill has been referred to the Ad Hoc Committee on Constitution Review.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party (LP) has backed the workers action. The party, in a statement by its national secretary, Julius Abure, said the move, if not stopped would further pauperise workers who were already suffering the high rate of inflation occasioned by poor management of the economy.
The statement read: “Workers over the years are made to suffer and at the receiving end of every unfair government policies. Removing the minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list will bring about lack of wage uniformity in Nigeria. The process of collective bargaining and negotiations becomes cumbersome, unrealistic and illusory.”
In Lagos, workers from different affiliates under the two labour centres, who assembled under the Ikeja bridge as early as 7a.m, had a brief encounter with the police who tried to stop them from going further on the protest to Alausa secretariat. The police had equally occupied the NLC secretariat in Yaba with armoured tanks. Similar scenario played out when they eventually made it to the House of Assembly at Alausa.
Chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards with different inscriptions, the unions argued that the bill was tantamount to a negation of efforts of the Nigerian working class in the past 40 years to free itself from the manacles of slave wages, savagery working conditions and slave drivers.
At the presentation of a letter to the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, who was represented by a member of the House and Chairman, House Committee on Accounts, Solaja Saka Nurudeen, Chairman of the Lagos State Council of NLC, Funmi Sessi and the TUC, Gbenga Ekundayo, said the obnoxious bill must be stopped immediately to avert unforseen occurrence that may be worse than the EndSARS protest.
Oyo House of Assembly has assured that the bill would not fly in the state.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Abiodun Fadeyi, spoke when he received workers at the House of Assembly Complex in Ibadan, who were there to deliver a protest letter to the legislature.
Fadeyi was accompanied by two lawmakers, Kazeem Olayanju, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Information, and Peter Oyedokun, Chairman House Committee on Agriculture; as well as the Clerk of the House, Mrs. Oludara Awe.
The workers were led by the NLC chairman, Kayode Martins and his TUC counterpart, Emmanuel Ogundiran in the company of other leaders of the union in the state.
Fadeyi said: “I want to assure you all that the obnoxious bill, the anti-workers bill, the not-too-friendly bill that has gone through the second reading at the National Assembly will not fly here at the Oyo State House of Assembly.”
Activities at the Ekiti Assembly were halted for more than two hours by protesting workers. They paraded placards with inscriptions including: Removing national minimum wage from the exclusive list is a crime, National Minimum wage is our right, “Do not decentralise workers wages, Say no to minimum wage removal, NLC, TUC on minimum wage we stand, Wage theft: Criminal against humanity among others.
In their separate remarks during the protest, chairmen of TUC and NLC, Sola Adigun and Kolapo Olatunde respectively, threatened to embark on national strike if the National Assembly should go ahead with the plan.
Speaker of the House, Fuminiyi Afuye, who stressed the need for the restructuring of the country, said the move would further make the federal system of government to be more efficient.
In Edo State, protesting workers brandished placards of various inscriptions. Addressing the protesters at the House of Assembly premises, chairman of the NLC, Sunny Osayande, said the implications of the bill include license for governors to drag the country back to the era of ridiculous slave wages which in the past had precipitated multifarious industrial crises in different parts of the country.
Speaking at the premises of the State House of Assembly, the Bauchi State, labour chairman, Danjuma Saleh, who led hundreds of his members said the planned removal is a declaration of war on Nigerian workers. He said that the move to transfer the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list is an affront to the workers’ legitimate rights.
Speaker of the Assembly, Abubakar Suleiman, pledged to mobilise his colleagues across the country against the bill.
Speaking at the state assembly, the NLC chairman, Aminu Umar, claimed the action of those behind the private bill at the National Assembly that seek to temper with the national minimum wage bill was an attempt to perpetually enslave workers.
Receiving the protesting workers on behalf of the Speaker, the House Leader, Bello Isa Ambarura, said the Assembly would deliberate on the grievances of the workers and ensure the right thing is done.
He assured that the state assembly will side with the interest of the workers and not be a party to whatever action that will jeopardise the interest of workers.
The protest, which started from the Labour House and ended at the Assembly complex, was strictly supervised by the police and officers from the Department of State Security (DSS).
Chairman of NLC, Halidu Umar Alhassan, told the lawmakers that the removal of minimum wage from exclusive list would compound the problems of civil servants and throws the nation into anarchy.
Alhasaan also appealed to the lawmakers to checkmate the activities of oil marketers who were increasing the PMS prices daily, stressing that their actions have compounded the problems of workers and citizens in the country.
Speaker Samaila Abdulmumin Kamba, who was represented by his deputy, Muhammad Buhari Aliero, told the workers that the House would not approve any amendment of Nigeria constitution to pave way for the removal of minimum wage from Exclusive List without contributions of all stakeholders in the state.
Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Alhaji Abdullahi Bawa Wuse, faulted the stand of the National Assembly.
He commended the protesters for the peaceful way they conducted themselves, adding that, “the House is behind labour in this matter.”
NLC chairman, Yakubu Garba described the plan as a malicious plot to enslave workers. No fewer than 200 workers drawn from all the NLC affiliate unions took part in the protest which saw the blocking of the main entrance to the House of Assembly complex.
Workers in Delta State told members of the National Assembly to focus more on weightier issues bordering on people’s welfare rather than tampering with issues of national minimum wage.
Speaking at the state of Assembly, NLC chairman, Mr. Goodluck Ofoburuku, specifically, the workers urged the lawmakers to channel their legislative energies towards addressing teething issues of insecurity, unemployment, lack of infrastructure among others.
Receiving the protest letter on behalf of the Speaker, Sheriff Oborevwori, Clerk of the Assembly, Mrs. Lyna Ochulor, pledged the House resolve to always work on the side of the people and to stand by the workers on issues of their welfare.
“When the time comes, the legislators and indeed the staff of the State House of Assembly will ensure that the right thing is done,” Ochulor said.
While presenting their letter of protest to the Speaker, Chairman of NLC, Aminu Ado Mijibiri, cautioned that the move by federal legislators to transfer the minimum wage to the ambit of governors would lead to multifaceted industrial crisis across the country.
He warned that the move would impoverish the working poor in addition to the fact that it would lead to the exclusion of the private sector, both organised and unorganised, from the concept, rational and logic of a national minimum wage.
Speaker Hamisu Ibrahim Chideri, promised to convey the protest letter to the rightful channels while pledging to ensure the bill is defeated in the state.
Akwa Ibom NLC chairman, Sunny James in company with leaders of TUC and other affiliate unions, warned that labour and all its affiliates would resist any attempt to deny Nigerians workers payment of minimum wage.
Responding on behalf of the Speaker, the Clerk of the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly, Mrs Mandu Umoren, said the State House of Assembly would support the struggle of Nigerian workers.
She said the speaker, Mr Aniekan Bassey, is a worker’s friendly speaker that would not do anything against the interest of Nigerian workers.
Reps: Smear campaign won’t help NLC
Amidst protest, sponsor of the proposed legislation, Datti Mohammed, has said insults and abuses would not help the union.
He admonished organised labour to take advantage of the public hearing on the bill to present its case.
The lawmaker, while noting that the bill has gone beyond him, stated that if the NLC could come up with a superior argument supported with facts and figures, the House might jettison the proposed legislation.
“The NLC has a right to peaceful demonstration. But in the House we have our own processes. If they are against the bill, like every other bill, there is always public hearing. They can come and state their position. If they have superior argument with facts and figures, nothing stops the House from withdrawing it.
“They should not resort to insults, abuses, intimidation, smear campaign. That will not advance their case. Why are they afraid of constructive engagement. They should come for constructive engagement.
“ Let them present their case. Even more controversial cases have come to this House, people come to present their own position and not through abusing other people.”