Ahead of consideration of the report of the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Constitution Review, the National Assembly has assured Nigerian workers that their interests would be protected.
This assurance was given by the Co-Chairmen, Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committees on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and Rt. Hon. Idris Wase when the adhoc panel hosted a delegation of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Abuja.
While addressing the delegation led by the NLC President, Com. Ayuba Wabba, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution and Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Omo-Agege assured that committee members would not impose their personal views on Nigerians at the ongoing Constitution Amendment exercise.
According to him, committee members would be guided strictly by best legislative practices, highest ethical standards, integrity, open mindedness, and patriotism in carrying out their assignments.
Omo-Agege further said the desire of every Nigerian is that the ongoing process produces positive transformations to the country, adding that all hands should be on deck to enable the 9th National Assembly bequeath to the country a constitution that speaks to every citizen’s yearnings and aspirations.
“Some have been making the case that there should be total devolution of anything labour not limited to just the core labour issues which is also inclusive of minimum wage.
“For some of us, our position is very clear on the issue of the minimum wage. That to me is a no-go area not out of fear but out of the case you have laid as to why that must remain in the Exclusive Legislative List.
“Anything provided for in the Concurrent Legislative List by way of information, it is just on paper and what do I mean by that? The only way a state can make any law in respect to any of these issues is only if that area has not been covered by the Federal Government and that is the doctrine of covering the field. Once the field has been covered, no state legislature can make a law in that respect.
“To the extent it is not even covered, if they were to make any law, that law can only be in addition to it and not inconsistent with the extant federal law”, he added.
While noting that there was no cause for alarm, he pointed out that once an area has been covered in the Exclusive List in the Constitution, no state legislature can legislate on it.
He also noted that, due to importance attached to labour, the committee thought it wise to interact with labour leaders before the final vote on the floor of both legislative chambers at the end of February.
“At the end of the day, we are looking forward to coming up with about 69 to 70 bills from several areas that require intervention. This is just one of several. But because of the importance that we attach to labour, and also given the relationship, we thought at all times we needed to carry you along,” he said.
On his part, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Idris Wase emphasised that the National Assembly is wholeheartedly committed to upholding all tenets of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions that Nigeria is signatory to.
“The committee would not do anything that would go against internationally acceptable labour practices,” he said.
The NLC President, Com. Ayuba Wabba, urged the National Assembly not to transfer core labour mandates from the Exclusive to Concurrent Legislative List.
Wabba went down memory lane about the introduction of the minimum wage, noting that it would be difficult to come to the rescue of the private sector if states were allowed to fix their wages?
The labour leader said for the sake of our national interest, security and industrial harmony, Labour should not be devolved to states, adding that the reason for Nigeria’s relative industrial growth and development into investors haven are largely attributed to the willingness of the country to subject itself to international labour standards, norms and practices.
He said: “It is thoroughly harrowing to even imagine the chaotic scenario for businesses and investors to deal with 37 different set of labour laws across the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. There is certainly no deadlier death knell for the Nigerian economy and social fabrics than the suggestion and or recommendation to transfer Labour Matters from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List. It is simply what it is — an Invitation to an unprecedented industrial anarchy of unimaginable proportions.
“We demand that the recommendations of the Joint Committee to transfer all labour matters apart from the National Minimum Wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List be withdrawn and should be shot down if it is ever presented for debate in the chambers of the National Assembly”.
On the delegation of the NLC President are the General Secretary, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Com. Musa Lawal; NLC Deputy Presidents, Com. Joe Ajaero, Com. Muhammed Idris, Com. Najeem Yasim, Com. Amaechi Asugwuini; Vice President NLC, Com. Salamatu Aliu among others.