Offending employers of labor may not be comfortable with the bill if it eventually becomes a law in Nigeria. We must commend the concern and foresight of the outgoing 9th Speaker of the federal House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila for initiating the bill.
The proposed bill seeking to prohibit late payment of wages and salaries as well as underpayment by employers in Nigeria as sponsored by Femi Gbajabiamila, is commendable and long overdue.
The bill which has passed for second reading is proposing fines and punishment for delays in payment of salaries or breaches of contracts by employers, including one month imprisonment for any employer who owes salaries for more than 60 days.
Among various sections, the bill in Section 2 provides that “Every employer of labour in Nigeria, whether, private or public, and whether it is employing any worker on permanent or contract basis, must ensure that all payments of wages, salaries, pension and other benefits to workers are paid promptly without delay either weekly, fortnightly, monthly or yearly as agreed by parties in the contract of employment of the additional individuals.
Section 3 (1a, b, c) also prohibits employers from making arbitrary deductions from the wages or pension of workers unless expressly provided in the contract of engagement.
Considering the prevalent practice in the country where employers, including governments in various states, default in the payment of staff among other infractions of the labour laws, the proposed bill should be given urgent consideration and passed into law before the termination of the tenure of the 9th Assembly.
If that’s achieved, states like Plateau, Benue, Kogi and few others may sit up to face the reality and do the needful.
For instance, civil servants in Plateau state in most times, spend over four consecutive months without sign of any salary at sight. The same is applicable in most of the 17 local government areas of the state.
One must then commend Governor Bala Muhammed of Bauchi state for prompt payment monthly salary and wages. In his four years in office so far, he never for once missed a single month without paying salary and wages to workers as a bond. He has kept to his 2019 promise and improved upon.
Although, sometimes the delay in payment of salaries and wages by state governments may not be the fault of the governors but that of their Accountant-Generals and other treasury staff who claim to be holier-than-thou just in desperation for recognition and trust by the governors while some are mere sycophants mistakenly occupying the responsible office through favour and have to sustain the position through deceit and lies. I know of an Accountant-General in one of the states that I came across who believes God is his ‘grandfather’ that can always play with. The man when saying a lie, and knows that he is not saying the truth but, can confidently swear to God 1000 times to be believed. I wonder the type of character he is if not an insane person.
In most cases, payments approved by some governors to contractors or consultants are not implemented by the paying officers under with flimsy excuses while favored contractors not on the list of approved payments are paid without the governor’s approval.
Back to the issue under discussion, there are many private companies, organizations and agencies of government where staff are owed for months or years and are still expected to perform their duties efficiently. Owing salaries is gradually becoming the norm and no longer an exemption. It’s bad enough that many employers are not paying commensurate salaries for the input of their staff and it’s even unfortunate that they make it seem that they are doing their staff a favour by paying them when they choose to.
Arbitrary deductions contrary to the agreed conditions of service are now the order of the day in many organizations with workers at the mercy of employers taking advantage of the dire economic situation in the country to exploit them. To further underpay their staff, security companies for example impose all sorts of fines and levies foe alleged offences committed or not committed and deduct them from their meager salaries.
Even for official deductions like pensions and tax, many employers don’t pay the relevant authorities. The implication for the workers is that they are unable to benefit from such deductions after retiring or leaving their employer for whatever reason.
Because of the lack of legislation like the proposed bill sponsored by Femi, employers don’t feel an obligation to pay their staff as regularly as they should and are not afraid of being penalized or any legal tussle. They know how to play their cards within the judicial system as the courts in most cases provide them safety nets for cover through compromised judgments sugarcoated with technicalities.
This reminds me of the case of one of Nigeria’s foremost newspaper proprietors, Nduka Obaigiena who is allegedly notorious for holding staff salaries and other benefits. He once tried luck with such behavior in faraway South Africa but failed. He launched a publication in that God’s own country. Unfortunately for him, few months after the celebrated launching, it ceased to hit the news stand when he could not pay monthly salaries in accordance with the laws of that serious country.
The same publisher, like many other media owners hold their staff for months in the country while they hypocritically report violations of the Rights of Workers in other sectors.
Hopefully, as soon as the proposed bill is passed, proper enforcement of the provisions will ensure that workers are paid as at when due. Workers deserve their wages as and when due and should not be unjustly denied as is the case presently in many sectors.
It’s really sad that many people work for years and they have nothing to show at the end of it because their welfare was not prioritized by their employers who used and dumped them without the necessary law to protect their interests.
In unison, we say well done to the outgoing Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila for initiating such an all important and life saving bill. We need more of such bills which shows that our lawmakers really understand what the ordinary Nigerians are passing through and what should be done to protect their rights and privileges.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues