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xxxxxxxxxxx of Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Source: thenationonlineng.net

UPDATED: Protesters storm NASS over minimum wage bill

The Leadership of the Organized Labour in Nigeria on Wednesday led thousands of Nigerian workers to protest at the National Assembly.

The protesters chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards with various inscriptions arrived the forecourt of the National Assembly at 11am.

They had earlier converged at the Unity Fountain in Maitama from where they marched with their banners, placards with accompanying loud popular music into the National Assembly.

The procession of the protesters disrupted vehicular traffic as most lawmakers, staff and visitors alike were forced to make a detour into the National Assembly complex through the Villa and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) gates.

Commuters and drivers in and around the popular Ahmadu Bello Way, Shehu Shagari Way and the Federal Secretariat had a hectic time assessing their destinations while the procession was on.

The Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi met the protesters at the MOPOL gate of the National Assembly and joined them in marching into the main complex.

The protest was organized by the NLC over a bill titled: “A Bill to amend the Constitution to remove minimum wage from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List and to allow states determine their minimum wage.”

The Bill was sponsored by Honourable Garba Datti Muhammad representing Sabon Garin Federal Constituency in Kaduna State.

The protesters were officially received at the forecourt of the National Assembly by the Senate President Ahmad Lawan represented by Senator Sabi Abdullahi and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila represented by the Leader of the House, Honourable Alhassan Ado Doguwa.

Both Senator Abdullahi and Honourable Doguwa in their remarks assured the Labour leaders and the protesters that the National Assembly would ensure that the Bill does not see the light of day.

Abdullahi assured the workers that the Bill will be killed the way a similar Bill was killed during the 8th National Assembly.

“Like somebody has said earlier we are progressive lawmakers and I want to tell you there are quite a large number of them in the National Assembly.

“Remember in the 8th Assembly, I was the spokesman of the Senate and I recall vividly that this issue of minimum wage was brought and we killed it.

“Has the condition that led to the 8th Assembly decision changed? I therefore want to say very clearly that in the past we have stood toe to toe with the Nigerian workers.

“There is nothing that suggests we are changing from that direction rather we will stand by you to ensure that the fundamental right of every worker is not only enforced but is ensured and guaranteed.

“Therefore I want to guarantee you that on behalf of Distinguished Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, who is also a very progressive lawmaker, do not go home having any fear.

“Go home and sleep with your eyes closed. We are going to ensure that we are going to do justice to the message you have brought to us.

“Action speaks louder that voice. Wait to see the action. I want to assure you that our colleagues will receive this message in full measure without any subtraction or addition.

“The way you brought it is the way they will see it. In assure you that justice will not only be done but will be seen to be done Insha Allah,” Abdullahi said.

Hon. Doguwa in his remarks said it was clear that that Nigerian workers are against the minimum wage Bill and therefore the House would listen to the wishes and aspirations of the organized Labour in the country.

He said that the only justice that can be done to the Bill is to kill it.

Doguwa said: “You are in the right place and the right institution which is a representation of the general membership of organized labour in Nigeria.

“May I say on behalf of my Speaker and the entire members of the House of Representatives that we are also by extension members of the organized labour. We are your employees.

“By this implication, we have no reason whatsoever to shy away from the interests and yearnings of Nigerian workers. When you are happy we are happy.

“I therefore say on behalf of the Speaker and the House that we have accepted the letter written and signed by the President of the organized labour and we are going to give it the right treatment.

“There would be an opportunity to come and address us through a public hearing. That initiative is only an opinion. The recommendation of that Bill is only a propopal.

“From what I am seeing now it is clear that organized labour are against that Bill. I want to assure you that the House of Representatives would give a listening ear to your message.

“We will still invite you to come and engage with the relevant committee of which I am a member.

“You will come and make your position fully. Your position will be heard at the committee level and when we come to plenary to consider the bill, members that are representing your respective communities, engage with them to do justice to that Bill and I can assure you that the only justice would be to kill the Bill.

“I want to advise that you should please lobby members that you elected and tell them that you do not want the bill and members will make sure the bill is killed.”

In his remarks, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba who led the workers protest described the Bill as a dirty bill and vowed that the organized Labour would resist the Bill to the last.

He said that the NLC and TUC has the mandate of its affiliate unions to declare a national wide strike if the issue is not addressed.

Wabba said: “We have a written document signed by the President of the NLC and the President of the TUC to be submitted to the House and the Senate.

“We are here today on behalf of Nigerian workers, on behalf of Nigerian pensioners, to make it clear and unambiguous that the Bill that seeks to remove the minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list is not accepted.

“Let me say that the issue of National Minimum Wage is a standard set by the International Labour Organization. ILO is the first agency of the United Nations born in 1919 after the first world war. So we have the Powers of the United Nations.

“What I am reiterating that one: the National Minimum Wage is not a Nigerian standard. It is an international standard.

“Their argument is that because they want federalism, they want the issue of the National Minimum Wage to be removed to the concurrent list. That is false.

“In the countries of the world, we have 26 federal nations that have minimum wage in their Exclusive List including the USA. As I speak to you currently, the minimum wage of America is $10 per hour.

“President Joe Biden came in and the first statement he made is that he is going to review the national minimum wage.

Let me also say that the argument that it is about federalism is false. Also the argument about the ability to pay is false.

“By the time Shehu Shagari signed the first minimum wage in 1981, N125 which was equivalent to $125 and put it in our Constitution and insulated it so that it would not be abused, it was negotiated.

“The last minimum wage of 30,000 was negotiated in the same line. Six governors represented the governors, one per geo political zone.

“The manufacturers association were, small scale enterprises were there. Chambers of commerce were there, the umbrella body for private employers were there, organized labour we were there. We negotiated for six months. Our demand was N66,500.00 using empirical data that the purchasing power of Nigerian workers has been eroded.

“It was in the process of negotiation, states said they cannot be able to pay 66, 000 and employers also, so we reached and agreement of N30, 000.00. That was what the President signed and sent to the National Assembly.

“We are happy even at that point some governors wanted to resist the amount, it was the House of Representatives that actually stood their ground and passed the Bill within three days.

“What I am saying is essence is how can we degenerate to remove an issue that workers have earned through hard labour and they want to remove it overnight?

“The problem of Nigeria we have said in essence is the issue of good governance and that is why we are here and therefore all those issues have been documented in the document we will hand over to the leadership of the National Assembly.

“You have given us the mandate that if the right thing is not done, the leadership has a right to declare a national strike.

“I know that this is very critical to you. Among issues, part of why we are not making progress is because local government system has been killed.

“The resources of local governments have become pocket money. We want autonomy for the local governments, autonomy for State Houses of Assembly and autonomy for the judiciary.

“This is the way to go because there are different arms of government and if we do that Nigeria would be better. The resources of local governments can be used to address issues of insecurity and it can address many developmental issues.

“Therefore let me salute your tenacity and courage that despite COVID-19, it cannot take away the right of workers, the right to protest.

“It is a right enshrined in the constitution and therefore cannot be taken away. I also know that governors collect the same salary across the country, councilors, members of state and National Assembly collect the same, so why is the case for workers different?

“Governors collect humongous security votes that have not been used to address the issues of insecurity in the country. If we reduce all of these, I am sure we would have more than enough to be able to pay minimum wage. Minimum is minimum. It is a national benchmark.

“This is our first point of call and therefore they represent every Nigerian. Every constituency is represented. It is my honour and privilege to hand over our letter of protest on behalf of Nigerian workers to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Senator Abdullahi and Honorable Doguwa collected the letters addressed to the Senate President and Speaker respectively from the NLC President, Wabba.

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