A bill seeking to amend the 1999 constitution to allow states to determine minimum wage has scaled second reading in the House of Representatives.

The House on Tuesday debated the bill and passed it for second reading amidst opposition.

The sponsor of the bill, Datti Garba, from Kaduna State, said the bill is part of the devolution of powers, which allows states to determine minimum wage based on capacity.

Item 34 on the exclusive legislative list places “labour, including trade unions, industrial relations; conditions, safety and welfare of labour; industrial disputes; prescribing a national minimum wage for the Federation or any part thereof; and industrial arbitration” on the federal government.

In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the National Minimum Wage of N30,000 into law, following the passage of the bill by the National Assembly.

The federal parliament passed the minimum wage bill on March 19, 2019 and it was transmitted to Mr Buhari on April 2. He signed this on April 18, 2019.

However, the implementation of the law by state governments has been difficult.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) accused eight states of not implementing the National Minimum Wage Act.

Debate

Leading the debate on the bill, Mr Datti explained that the bill seeks to remove the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list.

He noted ”states should determine what they can pay, instead of the National Minimum wage that most states are not complying with”.

He said: “Every attempt to impose minimum wage has always proven controversial. Labour leaders have been seeing minimum wage as collective bargaining. We all know that states are not equal, some states can pay, why some cannot afford it. Even in some states, some local governments, like Surulere local government where the Speaker (Gbajabiamila) is from can pay, but some local governments within the same state cannot.

“In the 1963 Constitution, minimum wage was in the concurrent legislative list. This decentralisation will allow each state to negotiate with labour union in their respective states.

“This proposal is egalitarian as the current approach is abitrary.”

Also supporting the bill, Uzoma Abonta from Abia State said the bill is one of the ‘finest’ legislations in the 9th House.

He said the bill will help in decentralisation of the federation, and devolve more powers to the states.

“This bill is important. The minimum wage as constituted in the constitution is evil. The rent in Abia is different from Abuja. A collective minimum wage is hazardous.

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“Right, some governors will be mischievous with this bill, but they will have to contend with other labour laws.”

Also speaking in support of the bill, Fred Agbedi (PDP Bayelsa), said the bill will allow states ”to allocate salaries they can afford, based on resources available to them”.

Opposition

But the deputy Speaker of the House, Idris Wase, who is the Chairman of the Committee on Constitution amendment, described the bill as “anti-people” and urged his colleagues to reject it.

According to Mr Wase, states are unable to pay wages due to inability to prioritise and not due to lack of funds.

“I know what is going to happen when you allow states to decide minimum wage. It will lead more people into poverty. Even when they have the resources, they will not pay,” he said.

Also speaking against the bill, Aminu Sulaiman said even if the House should allow the bill to scale second reading, ”he will fight it at committee level”.

“This bill is an incentive to states to undermine the collective bargaining power advantage of the union. We will follow this bill to the committee level and fight it.”

Responding, Mr Datti argued that the current law on minimum wage has no implementation mechanism. He argued that most states are not complying with the legislation.

Following the long debate, the “ayes” had the majority votes when the bill was put to a voice vote by the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.

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