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Governors bound by Constitution to pay national minimum wage – Falana

THE Nigerian Constitution compels all governors to accept the national minimum wage, Femi Falana, a senior advocate, has posited as debate rages over the national minimum wage expected to be announced by President Bola Tinubu soon.

While the governors reject the N60,000 earlier offered by the federal government, the organised labour, led by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have pushed for N250,000.

Once enacted, the National Minimum Wage Act 2024 will be binding on all employers, except those explicitly excluded by the law, Falana said in his titled, ‘Legal Matters Arising from Proposed National Minimum Wage Act’.

Citing past legal precedents, Falana referenced the case of Oyo State Government v Alhaji Apampa & Ors (2008), where the National Industrial Court affirmed that paying less than the national minimum wage violates the law. Similarly, in Attorney General, Osun State v Nigeria Labour Congress (Osun State Council), the court upheld that employers could pay more than the minimum wage but not less.

He further emphasised that state governments and private employers are bound by the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act. “A state government or private employer may pay more but is not permitted to pay less than the stipulated minimum wage,” citing examples of the Lagos and Edo state governments’ payment of a minimum wage of N70,000, which is above the national minimum of N30,000 set by the 2019 Act.




     

     

    Addressing concerns about the affordability of a new national minimum wage, he argued that all state governments could meet this obligation if they manage resources efficiently.

    He urged governors to reduce waste and tackle official corruption, adding that about 30 states spent N986.64 billion on recurrent expenditures, including refreshments, sitting allowances, travel, and utilities, in the first quarter of 2024 alone.

    Falana argued that a national minimum wage does not violate the principles of federalism. “It is not against any tenet of federalism to prescribe a uniform national minimum wage for workers in Nigeria,” the lawyer stated.

    He further explained that state legislatures lacked the power to set a minimum wage for public service workers within their respective states, pointing out that it is clearly stated in Item 34 of the Exclusive Legislative List, which covers “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.”

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    The lawyer highlighted that labour and trade unions are part of the exclusive legislative list, which grants the National Assembly the authority to enact relevant laws such as the Labour Act, Trade Union Act, Factories Act, and Employees Compensation Act.

    Also, despite Nigeria’s capitalist orientation, he noted that Section 16(2)(d) of the Constitution mandates the government to ensure “suitable and adequate shelter, food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and welfare for the disabled,” among other provisions for all citizens.

    Although these constitutional mandates are not directly enforceable, they have compelled the National Assembly to enact laws like the Pension Reforms Act 2014, the National Housing Act, and the Federal Mortgage Bank Act, he stated.

    According to him, the Minimum Wage Act aims to bridge the wage gap between lowly paid workers and top public officers.

    “The purpose of the law of fixing a national minimum wage is to ensure that no employer of labour is allowed to pay starvation wages to workers,” he added.

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    The ICIR reports that the NLC and TUC declared a nationwide strike on Monday, June 3, over the government’s failure to announce an acceptable minimum wage, shutting down schools, airports, power and trail stations, among others.

    The workers suspended the strike on Tuesday, June 4, after reaching an agreement with the federal government that the N60,000 offered by the government would be reviewed upward.

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