Minimum Wage Bill passes second reading

                             Minimum  Wage Bill passes second reading

BARELY a day after it got to the National Assembly, the National Minimum Wage Bill yesterday passed the crucial first and second reading in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The bill was transmitted to the Red and Green chambers by President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday.

The upper chamber spoke of a plan to accommodate domestic workers of Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) in the implementation of the new salary structure.

Titled “Approval of a National Minimum Wage for Nigerian Workers – amendment of the National Minimum Wage (amendment) Act, 2011”, the Bill prescribes N27,000 as minimum wage.

The Senate suspended its rules to take the first and second reading of the Bill as was suggested by Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan.

Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided, noted that the consideration of the bill was the first time the Senate would read an Executive Communication and suspended its standing rules to consider it.

Ekweremadu added that the Senate would constitute an ad-hoc committee to work with stakeholders to produce acceptable report for the Senate to approve.

He noted that the Bill limited those to benefit from the new wage structure to places with not less than 25 workers, saying it will exclude workers in places with fewer workers.

The deputy senate president urged the ad-hoc committee to address the issue during its public hearing.

Speaking on the second reading of the bill, he said: “This will be the first time the Eighth Senate is reading an Executive Communication and suspending our rules to take a First and Second Reading and assigning the Bill to a Committee, all in one day. This shows how committed we are to this issue.

“I believe what we have said so far will suffice in guiding the committee. Just to clarify: the new minimum wage brought to us is set at N27, 000. There were news reports of N27, 000 for state workers and N30, 000 for the Federal Government workers, but this is a single national minimum wage of N27, 000.

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“Another issue of concern is whether this affects organisations and establishments employing less than 25 persons.

“If this does not affect these people; it means a whole number of people will be left out of the minimum wage and that is not right. In most countries, the minimum wage applies to all workers, regardless of the number of people in an establishment.

“I believe that at the public hearing, we will be able to clarify and sort it all out. We must try our best to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

“There is an argument about the ability of state governments to pay. If they reduce their wage bill and other costs, they will be able to pay.

“I suggest that they look inward and collect more taxes. I am not advocating that they should increase taxes, but they should increase the drive to collect more taxes.”

In his lead debate on the bill, Lawan said that the proposed legislation was the work of the federal and state governments, irrespective of political persuasion.

He described the bill as critical, especially as it has to do with the welfare of workers.

The Senate Leader said the N27, 000 national minimum wage had already been agreed upon by stakeholders.

He said that the Bill should be given accelerated consideration and passage so that its implementation could begin this year.

The financial implications of the Bill, he said, will be worked out during the consideration of this year’s budget.

The Yobe North senator noted that though N27,000 may not be what the workers need, but it is a step forward.

Minority Leader Mrs Biodun Olujimi, who also spoke in favour of the bill, described it as the most important bill in the life of the Eighth Senate.

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Senator Olujimi noted that though the N27, 000 minimum wage may not be enough, it is an improvement on N18, 000 minimum wage.

She, however, warned that the proposed minimum wage should not be a political gimmick in an election year.

The Ekiti South senator said: “Most states have said that they cannot pay. The Federal Government should sit down with state governments to work out how the new wage would be accommodated by state governments.”

Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central) appreciated the spirit with which President Buhari transmitted it to the National Assembly and the struggle workers put up to secure an improved minimum wage.

Senator Barnabas Gemade said he would have suggested the third reading of the bill, which according to him, was overdue, “if not that we have been receiving back Bills without the assent of Mr. President”.

To serve on the ad-Hoc Committee are: Senate Chief Whip Olusola Adeyeye (chairman); Chairman, Senate Committee on Labour, Abu Ibrahim; Sani (Northwest); Sam Egwu (Southeast); Suleiman Adokwe (Northcentral); Francis Alimekhena (Southsouth); Solomon Adeola (Southwest) and Binta Garba Mazi (Northeast).

The committee is to report back to the Senate in Plenary within two weeks.

At the Green Chamber, the lawmakers spoke of a plan to receive representations from the 36 governors as well as ministers of Finance and Labour & Productivity next Monday to guide the House on the most appropriate minimum wage threshold for workers.

An ad hoc Committee chaired by Deputy Speaker Yussuff Lasun held a public hearing on the bill on Monday.

Expected at the public hearing are representatives of trade unions and other stakeholders.

Muhammad Monguno (APC, Borno) said the increment was long overdue as there was need for workers to have a wage commensurate with reality.

Edward Pwajok (PDP, Plateau) was delighted that the bill was specific on the categories of employers who must comply with the law and those exempted from paying the minimum wage.

Deputy Chief Whip Pally Iriase enjoined the House to review the proposal upward to N30,000, which he said was initially agreed on by the Tripartite Committee.

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Aminu Shagari (PDP, Sokoto) applauded the clause on sanctions for defaulters, saying it would make employers sit up. Kayode Oladele (APC, Ogun) said workers need living age considering the country’s high poverty level and high income disparity.

To Oluwole Oke (PDP, Osun), N27, 000 is grossly inadequate. He noted that the new tax parameters by the Federal Government could be a means of retrieving whatever is added to the minimum wage.

Chika Adamu (APC, Niger) said the proposed wage was inadequate.

He said the five-year review period must be reviewed downward to one or two years, while also demanding that the table for the proposed salary structure should be presented to the House to enable it work on the bill from informed angle.

Ayodele Oladimeji (PDP, Ekiti), said N27, 000 cannot sustain a family, considering the prevailing economic reality.

Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) urged caution and suggested that states must be compelled to make input into the discussion at the legislative level to ascertain their commitment. “Even if you give bailout to states, what gives impression that N27, 000 can be paid?

“This is where the viability of states comes because we have to find out what makes it impossible for almost all the states to pay the current N18, 000. We have to look for what is sustainable.

“Why must the issue of minimum wage be a battle that the Labour unions must win? That is why there must be an adequate legal structure for it and we must be mindful of increment and its multiplier effect on the living conditions of Nigerians,” he said.

Sadiq Ibrahim (APC, Adamawa), said the N27,000 new wage would be eroded as soon as it comes into effect without functional and effective public infrastructure and utilities.

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