Unpaid wages: An abuse of labour rights
Just when one thinks the ugly past of working without pay, was over for Nigerian civil servants, the workers’ survival and welfare have again come under severe attack for over five months, and this is due to no fault of the workers. Ordinarily, the average civil servant is usually paid mere pittance by the State.
But even the pittance now seems a luxury as about two-thirds of the States of the Federation are unjustifiably in arrears of Civil Servants’ salaries and benefits. The Law seems weak in aiding and rescuing Civil Servants whose livelihood is being emasculated by their employers.
The helplessness of the current situation, in which the Civil Servants have found themselves, exposes the fundamental limitations of the Nigerian Labour Law. The Nigerian Labour Act represents the key framework for the protection of every class of workers including skilled and unskilled workers, private and public workers as defined under Section 91 of the Labour Act. The Nigerian Civil Servant is therefore not excluded from the protection of the Nigerian Labour Act. The Nigerian Labour Act not only makes provision for employment issues but also protects wages.
Section (7) of the Labour Act provides that a worker should have a written statement that specifies the rate, manner and period of payment of his salary. Section (15) of the Act provides that;“wages shall become due and payable at the end of each period for which the contract is expressed to subsist, that is to say, daily, weekly or at such other period as may be agreed upon.
Provided that, where the period is more than one month, the wages shall become due and payable at intervals not exceeding one month” The combined interpretation of the provisions of Sections 7 and 15 of the Labour Act above would mean that every employer, inclusive of the government, is bound to issue within three months, a detailed letter of appointment stating the amount of the agreed wages and period of Payment.
Upon fulfilling those responsibilities, the employer shall further ensure that such wages are paid at the agreed time and if the employment subsists for more than a month, then such payment shall be paid monthly. A Month, according to Section 18(1) of the Interpretation Act Cap I23 LFN 2004, is defined as meaning a calendar month reckoned according to the Gregorian calendar.
It would therefore mean employers shall make payment at the end of each Gregorian calendar month. Unfortunately, while the Labour Act makes provision for the protection of workers in Nigeria, it has failed to provide any sanction on any person who fails to obey the letter and the spirit of the Act. The non-provision of both penal and civil sanctions is a recipe for anarchy in the labour market especially as to payment of wages in Nigeria.
Scandalously, the State Governments, who ordinarily should be the most protective of their workers welfare, are now the biggest culprits needlessly owing salaries of civil servants for periods up to five months. This executive lawlessness is currently subjecting civil servants to economic hardship, pains and penury.
There is no known instance of any of the State Governors responsible for this mindless decimation of their workers’ wellbeing having stopped salaries of public officials in the affected States nor have stopped the undeserved and bogus pensions they pay to ex-Governors and other public officials as a sign of regard and commitment to their workers salary as first line priority.
Not one instance yet, and this speaks volumes of the sense of service lacking in these States some of whose Governors just handed over the huge debt portfolio to their successors. A government should at all times maintain, and comply with the provisions of the Law.
This responsibility is one that has been entrusted on them, neither by providence nor circumstances but by the Constitution to which all persons, including the government must submit. Section 1(1) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (CFRN) as amended provides thus “this Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on the authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The Labour Act having been passed by the legislature, pursuant to enabling powers from the Constitution, must be obeyed by private and public employers, including the government.
Any contravention of the Act should therefore be seen as a direct contravention of the Constitution that must not be tolerated by the society, and to which such violators must face the wrath of the law irrespective of their status as private or public organisations. • Akinpelu is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner