FOLLOWING the protest by the National Labour Congress (NLC), Garba Datti-Babawo, a member of the House of Representatives representing Sabon Gari federal constituency, who sponsored a bill to move the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to concurrent list, has given reasons for presenting the bill before the National Assembly.
Datti-Babawo disclosed the motives behind the bill during a telephone interview with The ICIR on Wednesday, as members of NLC stormed the streets of Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna to protest against the bill.
According to Datti-Babawo, many state governments could not afford to pay the new 30,000 naira minimum wage to their workers, resulting in threats of retrenching workers if they were to pay.
“Since it has been changed to 30,000 naira, you will find out that most of the states could not pay until the federal government intervened by giving them bailouts to pay. Now that there is no bailout, they cannot pay and most of the states are threatening to retrench most of their workers if they have to pay the 30,000 naira,” Datti-Babawo said.
He noted that the aim of the bill was to allow state governments to negotiate with the NLC on how much they could afford to pay their workers in consideration of the their revenue.
“What we are saying is that we should allow them to negotiate what they can pay based on their own resources because the money that goes to the federal government is not the same that goes to the state governments. Even among states, their resources are not the same.
“There are many socio-economic variables based on local peculiarities like the cost of living, housing, cost of school fees transportation, feeding and others. In essence, you will find out that more than 80 percent of local governments, after paying salaries, would not have anything to implement any single capital project, even for drugs for their clinics,” the lawmaker said.
He further argued that the decision on what to pay should be made by state assemblies because it was the assemblies that passed the budget, knew what the states earned and made projections for it.
Datti-Babawo further stated that the federal government should not just sit in Abuja and determine what a local government would pay to its workers, stating that prominent Nigerians and others had supported his position in the bill.
He said instead of employing devices of ‘intimidation,’ the NLC should rather attend the public hearing of the bill and make its contribution.
“NLC president has also written a letter to me which I replied in a five-page letter. In that letter, he said I should not have brought that bill, that I should have sat with them and negotiate, but I said that is not how we operate.
“When we brought this bill, there was a debate of which more than 80 percent of those who contributed were in support. Those are the people that represent the people. We advise them to come for the public hearing if the members are convinced with their argument. Nothing stops them from throwing the bill away.”
When asked if the bill would create an environment for enslaving workers as said by the NLC, Datti-Babawo said even without the bill, state governments were not paying. “Of what good is a law that is not implementable and has no punishment when broken?” he asked.
The lawmaker advised the NLC to change its method of abuses and intimidation, and come out for constructive engagement.
“I am looking at their protests now. The chairman is talking about me, which is a very wrong approach, and he should not talk about me because it is an issue of National Assembly. If it is not a popular bill, it would not be voted for.
“We have also seen how they turned it into a personal issue and this is the method employed by labour all the time when there is something of this nature. They do not engage in constructive dialogue, they resort to insult, they resort to all forms of intimidation which I think would not solve their own problem.
“If we allow it, most of the states would retrench almost 60 percent of their workers. Even NLC Kaduna is attacking me, but I am unperturbed, I do not care because the truth would always prevail,” Datti-Babawo stated.
The ICIR had earlier reported the ongoing protest by the NLC in Abuja and Lagos earlier on Wednesday morning over the minimum wage.