Sanction violators of Minimum Wage Act

Insinuations emanated last week to the effect that the National Assembly was considering the insertion of a clause in the impending national wage bill to sanction errant states, local governments, and the organised private sector of the law.

Although the senate has since refuted this claim, it, no doubt, resonates with the segment of the Nigerian workforce who are at the receiving end of a discriminatory wage system.

It was reported that the National Assembly may even consider seizing allocations of states and local governments that fail to comply with the new minimum wage being proposed.

This is as the National Assembly announced plans to include a clause that will provide clear sanctions for defaulters of the new minimum wage bill that will be passed after receiving the Wage Award Bill from President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Senate spokesperson, Yemi Adaramodu, explained that lawmakers would expedite the passage of the Wage Award Bill once President Tinubu sent it. He hinted that the president would send the bill after the National Assembly resumed from the Sallah recess on July 2. In his Democracy Day broadcast on June 12, President Tinubu promised to forward a bill on the new minimum wage to the National Assembly soon.

The federal government and labour unions have been at odds over the new minimum wage, with union leaders demanding N250,000. Meanwhile, the federal government and the organised private sector countered with an offer of N62,000, while state governors maintained that they could not sustain a minimum wage higher than N60,000.

Labour unions have repeatedly dismissed the government’s offer, labelling it a “starvation wage”. The Assistant General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Chris Onyeka, stated that organised labour would not accept the latest offer of N62,000 or the N100,000 proposal suggested by some individuals and economists.

Expressing concern over the labour leaders’ demands and the potential economic repercussions, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, stated that the N250,000 minimum wage proposal could destabilise the economy, lead to mass layoffs, and jeopardise the welfare of Nigerians.

Despite labour’s firm stance on the N250,000 minimum wage, President Tinubu emphasised that the government would pay workers what it could afford.

Addressing concerns about compliance, especially given that some states still pay the old N18,000 minimum wage, while others comply with the current N30,000, Adaramodu assured that the new bill will be watertight.

He added, “We will ensure it is strictly adhered to as law. The bill will include provisions for sanctions against non-compliance. We are going to produce a watertight bill that we are proposing for the president to sign to ensure that it is strictly adhered to as law. For now, let’s not speculate on the details that the federal government will include in the bill to be submitted to the National Assembly”.

He added, “When we talk about the minimum wage, is it just about the federal government? It seems like it’s a fight between the federal government and labour. That’s the way everybody is looking at it. We keep mentioning the federal government, President Tinubu, and labour. We don’t even talk about the organised private sector or the sub-nationals. The NLC, which recognises the workers in the organised private sector and the sub-nationals, needs to advocate for them.

“The issue of some states still paying N18,000, though I don’t know because I don’t suspect that to be happening. If some states are paying that, what have the labour unions in those states done to ensure compliance with the N30,000 minimum wage? We need to ask them too. But, like I said, the National Assembly will make this law seriously watertight, with sanctions for non-compliance, whether at the state, sub-national, or organised private sector level,” Adaramodu stated.

The senate spokesperson said that if such measures were not taken in the past, the 10th Assembly would ensure sanctions for defaulters of the newly agreed minimum wage. “That’s how it’s going to be done this time around. But the labour centres also need to protect the welfare of their members, not only with the federal government”.

When asked about the specific sanctions to expect, the senate spokesperson said it would be premature to give a definitive answer before the president sends the bill.

“When the executive bill comes and we sit in the chamber during plenary, there will be opinions. The bill, when passed, will progress to the public hearing stage where we will invite not only legislators but also organised labour to contribute to making the law. When that time comes, we will decide on the appropriate sanctions for non-compliance.

“We believe that the committee meeting to arrive at an acceptable minimum wage for Nigerian workers includes all necessary stakeholders, including the government, organised labour, and the organised private sector. Whatever result they come up with, we’ll make it law, and nobody will come and speak ambiguously,” he explained.

Addressing concerns about the timeline for the bill’s passage, the legislator stressed the efficiency of the legislative process. “Even if it is possible within 30 minutes, we will do that. The bill will go through all necessary stages, but we aim to avoid any unnecessary delays,” he said.

Buttressing the words of his colleague, House Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda, said the green chamber was eager to pass the bill along with their colleagues in the senate.

However, NLC National Treasurer, Hakeem Ambali, called for the political will to enforce sanctions against states, local governments, and members of the organised private sector not complying with minimum wage laws.

He noted that the National Assembly’s move was not new, adding that the former Minimum Wage Act also contained clauses for sanctions, even though they were not strong enough to deter defaulters.

“Such clauses have always been in the bill. This will not be the first time that they will be included in the bill. But, the political will to enforce that caveat really matters, though the provision was not strong in the last minimum wage Act. If the senate can do the needful and also oversee the implementation, it will be the best thing for Nigerian workers,” Ambali stated.

“For the state governments that haven’t fully complied with the N30,000 minimum wage payment. All of those in that category have been identified by labour, and some of them have started approving the new minimum wage. That shows that it is all about the inability or deliberate refusal to pay due to a lack of priority for workers. 

Sadly, they are doing themselves harm because workers are the engine rooms that drive development. A happy and well-motivated worker is a very good asset to productivity and development.”

It bears reiterating that an Act of the National Assembly, the National Minimum Wage Act inclusive, has a binding force on all the component units, institutions, governments, organisations and individuals across the federation.

Unfortunately, the National Minimum Wage Act has been observed more in the breach than its adherence, especially by states, local governments and the private sector. This deplorable state of affairs is due largely to the fact that the law is non-justiciable and therefore cannot be enforced in court. It is on this backdrop that a provision for sanctions against violators of the National Minimum Wage Act is both a necessity and a compellability.