The House of Representatives would not do anything to hurt Nigerian workers as the Green Chamber will always work in tandem with the yearnings and aspirations of the people, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has said.
Speaking during a meeting with a delegation from the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, led by NLC President, Ayuba Wabba on Tuesday in Abuja, the Speaker called on the organised labour to use advocacy and lobbying as tools to register its disagreement with legislative decisions and actions.
Mr Gbajabiamila said those were the most potent tools deployed by labour in advanced democracies to score high points as against street protests or the casting of aspersions on members of the legislature.
He said the dust being raised by the Minimum Wage Bill could be addressed successfully during the public hearing, where all stakeholders, including labour unions, would have the opportunity to kick against the draft legislation.
“The fact is that I’m a labour friendly Speaker, and I represent a labour friendly House.
“I want us to agree, first of all, that whatever was debated on the issue of minimum wage, the contributions by each member, were well-intended.
“When we begin to castigate members like that, it doesn’t pay us. No member will come up with something that he knows will be against the people.
“I want to tell you that we will do what we ought to do. You know me, and you know some of our members. If this hurts the Nigerian people, we’ll do the right thing,” he said.
The delegation paid a courtesy visit to the Speaker over the proposed bill to transfer the National Minimum Wage from the Exclusive-Legislative List to the Concurrent List.
The bill, initiated in the House, had already passed second reading.
On Wednesday last week, the labour leadership led workers on a protest match to the National Assembly, demanding the withdrawal of the Bill on the grounds that it would “enslave” workers and erode the gains achieved in the over 40 years of wage negotiations in Nigeria.
However, meeting with the labour delegation on Tuesday, Gbajabiamila reassured workers that the House would never be anti-people, but would always take decisions to serve the best interests of all Nigerians.
He explained that the proponents of the bill were also concerned about the welfare of workers and sought how to resolve the age-long problem of irregular or non-payment of salaries by many states in the country.
Mr Gbajabiamila informed the delegation that the fact of a bill being debated on the floor did not mean that the Legislature would pass it without “fully taking into account, the totality of the merits and demerits of the bill.”
He noted that where the demerits weighed heavily against a bill, the House had the only option of stopping such a bill.
The Speaker said he had expected labour to deploy advocacy in the media or lobbying through public hearing on the bill to register its disagreement as against casting aspersions on the image of lawmakers.
He spoke more: “In arresting a piece of legislation, because are talking democracy here, you can do it through advocacy; you can do it at the public hearing.
“I had a bill as the Speaker of the House that suffered the same fate – the Infectious Diseases Bill. It went through a public hearing and now we have removed some things from the bill; we listened to Nigerians and now you won’t find some of those things anymore.
“I would have loved a situation where you made your case at the public hearing or through advocacy in the media.”
He added that the Minimum Wage Bill, being a constitutional amendment bill, will take a very long journey through the House, the public hearing, the Senate and the State Houses of Assembly before eventually making its way to the Presidency for possible assent by Mr President.
Mr Gbajabiamila assured the delegation that at whatever point it became clear that the bill did not receive the support of the majority of lawmakers and Nigerians, it would “definitely” be stood down.
He appealed to the labour leadership to shelve its plan for further street protests or calling out workers to embark on industrial action.
Speaking earlier, Wabba told Gbajabiamila that the NLC and the TUC leaderships started mobilising workers against the bill because they believed it would erode the over 40 years of progress made in minimum wage negotiations in the country.
He said if allowed to pass, the bill would ridicule Nigeria before the international community, being a signatory to Convention 26 of the International Labour Organisation on wage issues.
The NLC President argued that minimum wage was a standard embraced by most countries as the minimum take-home-pay for a worker.
He noted that the minimum wage was always determined by the national parliament, but employers at the sub-national levels were free to negotiate with their workers to pay higher, according to the resources available to them.
Mr Wabba maintained labour’s position that the problem was not the inability of states to pay the minimum wage, but a case of “misplaced priorities.”