‘Minimum wage prescription is an exclusive preserve of the Federal Government’
Dr Sola Kolawole is a senior lecturer in the Department of Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management, Lagos State University, Ojo. He is also a lawyer with vast knowledge of Labour Law and Comparative Industrial Relations. In this interview with DANIEL ANAZIA, he shares his thoughts on the ongoing debate on the removal of national minimum wage prescription from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List.
There is a bill before the House of Representatives seeking the removal national minimum wage prescription from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List. The sponsor of the bill argues that if passed, states will have power to determine their own minimum wage based on their peculiarities. What is your take?
The issue at hand is not about the minimum wage; all the governors had agreed to pay the new N30,000 minimum wage. The contention is the consequential adjustment, which in the argument of the governors, should be left to the states to determine based on their capacities. This can be said to be an improvement on the collective agreement, and the argument of the governors is that some states cannot afford to pay, which informed Labour’s threat to embark on industrial action.
I want to disagree with the chairman of the governors’ forum that some states cannot afford to pay the consequential payment; all that is required of them is to be financially, or better put, fiscally responsible. The wastages and diverted funds should be channeled towards the payment of workers’ salaries; the Federal Government, through various wages commissions such as the Udoji and Adebo commissions, has always determined workers’ salaries. It is on the Exclusive List where only the government at the centre can deliberate on. By this, it means that it is an exclusive preserve of the Federal Government.
Looking at the fact that most state governments have not been able to implement the N30,000 minimum wage, shouldn’t they be allowed to fix their own minimum wage?
Across federations of the world, the issue of minimum labour wage, health, safety, pension, welfare and financial standards are maintained within the federal laws. Nigeria, being a signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) charter, in its Constitution, clearly and rightly puts critical factors of development such as labour, capital and land on the Exclusive List with a view to promoting a planned and balanced economic development of the country. It is on this premise that the national minimum wage in Nigeria is determined by the Federal Government, thus making it an exclusive issue. Therefore, state governments would only be allowed to fix their own minimum wage when salaries and wages are made a concurrent issue, wherein both the federal and the component state governments can deliberate. However, it would not be out of place for the state governments to improve on whatever the Federal Government has agreed with labour.
How would this policy move affect the ordinary Nigerian?
The effect of salary increments in Nigeria is very regressive such that workers pay more for everything they purchase. You will agree with me that even the new minimum wage, which has been pegged at ₦30,000 cannot be said to be a living minimum wage in Nigeria today given the prevailing inflationary indices in the country. Many Nigerians, including myself, have had to tighten their belts. Whether there is a recession or not, the prevailing conditions in the country has made everybody to be permanently in recession because of gross mismanagement of the economy.
It needs to be noted that there are certain clauses in the new National Minimum Wage Act. Similar to its predecessor, the 2019 Act applies across all sectors/employers, with the exception of: an establishment in which workers are employed or paid on part-time and/or on a commission or piece-rate basis; workers in seasonal employment like agriculture; and persons employed on a vessel or aircraft to which the laws regulating merchant shipping or civil aviation apply. Also, unlike the former Act, which applied to employers that employed 50 or more people, the 2019 Act applies to employers who employ 25 or more persons.
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