The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, says a living wage is aptly appropriate for Nigerian workers rather than a national minimum wage because of the country’s harsh economic reality.
Dogara made the assertion at a public hearing on the new National Minimum Wage bill organised by the House Ad hoc Committee in Minimum Wage on Monday in Abuja.
He acknowledged the fact that tensions were extremely high within the entire organised labour as the leaders had rejected the approved N27,000 by the national council of states even before the bill was brought to the House.
“Let me assure the Nigerian workers, that the National Assembly is aware of and shares in your pains, patience and sacrifices as regards the issue of the National Minimum Wage.
“Majority of our members are on your side as you can judge from their contributions to the debate on the bill on the floor of the House last Thursday.
“Armed with these sentiments and taking into cognizance the decision of the tripartite committee that provided the initial ingredients for this bill.
“We should have no difficulty taking a decision that is in the best interest of our workers and the nation.
“We are not oblivious of the current economic downturn and the dwindling revenue of government.
“We cannot also be blind to the fact that all economic indices indicate that even the N30,000 minimum wage labour being asked for is not enough to sustain a small family unit,” he said.
Dogara said that the nation might not have enough to satisfy the minimum demands of the Nigerian worker, but there was need to set economic priorities right and ensure minimum comfort for workers to up productivity.
He noted that poverty which had become the greatest threat to democracy in the country had manifested itself in vote buying and in the use of money to compromise electoral and security officials during elections.
Dogara said that because of the level of despondency and powerlessness that poverty had bred among the poor, they had and would always remain ever ready tools in the hands of tyrants and demagogues.
The speaker said since underemployment and unemployment were poverty strange bedfellows, eliminating them must be the focal point of government’s policies.
He identified corruption as a major factor that continued to fundamentally undermine democratic institutions and values.
According to him, corruption mostly affects the poor because they depend more on government for support.
“How then do we fight corruption from the roots rather than dealing with its symptoms as is currently the case? The answer is for us to begin to pay workers living wage not minimum wage.
“When we do not pay living wage, we cannot tame corruption; when workers’ take home is not enough to take them home, the temptation for them to cut corners in order to get home will always be there.
“Workers keep and process our national wealth and the only way to insulate them from the temptation to want to help themselves to it, is to ensure they are well remunerated.
“That we cannot pay living wage in a nation that represents a major promise for economic prosperity in the world speaks to the bane of our leadership.
“In order to reverse this tragic narrative, we must invest in proactive and innovative leadership not the reactive leadership model that we have been practicing all this while,” he said.
Dogara said that there were obvious reasons why the house had to give accelerated consideration to the bill.
According to him, the bill is very crucial and it is long overdue, as the current National Minimum Wage, fixed in 2011, has become unrealistic due to supervening developments in the nation.
The speaker said that the public hearing must be concluded as quickly as possible today to enable the house proceed with further legislative actions at plenary tomorrow.
He said that the consideration and passage of the bill was equally exigent as the country was at the brink of a national industrial crisis that it could least afford at this time
Dogara said that the house was approaching the exercise with a very high sense of duty, responsibility and loyalty to the nation.
Earlier, the Deputy Speaker of the house, Mr Yussuff Lasun, said that the minimum wage was a subject matter that covers all core roles of a democratic assembly.
Lassun, who is the Chairman of the ad hoc committee, said that the current National Minimum Wage discourse was at the national front burner and called for diligent and objective consideration.
“We therefore have the unremitting obligation as representatives of Nigerians to device a broad based across the spectrum, holistic and dynamic minimum wage template and regime that will address our peculiar diverse complexity and the issues raised.
“We should also appreciate the different and diverse capacities of the various states of this country vis a viz the imperatives of a living socio-economic conditions of the workers,” he said.
According to Lasun, we must also take a sober cue from other democracies and federal systems the world over in order to fashion a commensurate minimum wage package that will be comprehensively driven by brighter economic possibilities.