By Funmi Komolafe
Sometime in 2005, the three social partners in the industrial relations triphod ;Â organised labour, private employers and theÂ governmentÂ met under the auspices of the federal ministry of labour withÂ a representative of the International Labour Organisation in attendance.
Their mission was to review labour laws which wereÂ no longer realistic.Â It tookÂ monthsÂ and finally, they agreed on five labour billsÂ which were presented to the federal executive council. One of such bills is the employeeâ€™s compensation bill.
TWICE in the last two weeks, the Senate and the House of Representatives conducted public hearings on the Employees CompensationÂ Â Bill (ECB). The Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association and other members of Civil Society were in attendance.
Also in attendance were representatives of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund; the organisation charged with the responsibility of implementing Employees CompensationÂ as agreed by the labour centres and privateÂ employers.
However, someÂ Insurance companies began to make claims that the ECB if passed into law and executed by NSITF would jeopardise their businessÂ interests. Some even claimed that the ECB was unnecessary.
Three issues featured prominently during the public hearing, the need for ECB to be passed into law,Â the executing agency andÂ the percentage to be contributed.
The Essence of the Bill â€”Hon. Ado Dogo Audu
The chairman of the House of Representative Committee on Labour, Hon. Ado Dogo Audu said, â€œ This bill is of monumental importance to us. You (public) are only assisting us in our major function of law making. The bill is to guaranteeÂ adequate compensation for employees and their dependants for injuries sustained at work. The bill is expectedÂ to compliment a comprehensive reform of the agenda of government. No nation can become greatÂ if its workers feel unsafe or are not adequately compensated for injuries at work.
Why we support the ECB â€”labour, employers
A representative of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Barrister Abah Ejembi said, â€œ This bill isÂ a very important initiative.Â If passed into law, it will ensureÂ that very many Nigerians have access to the good things of life.
Workmens Compensation Act has no objective but this one has .Â It is in accordance with what CLO stands for.Â Rehabilitiation of injured workers enhances the dignityÂ of labour.Â It make provision for no fault claim unlike Insurance. The motive of private insurance is profit and this is against the aim of ECBâ€.
Nigeria Labour Congress – Represented by Issa Aremu â€œWe fully support the bill.ECB is not competing with Pension Reform but complimentary. Pension is about life after work, ECB is about working life now. If we had ECBÂ the families of about 30 workers who were roasted in the Ikorodu factory fire would have been compensated. We support the bill and it is in the interest of this country and indeedÂ all Nigerian workers that the billÂ be passed into lawâ€.
Trade Union Congress – represented byÂ president-general, Comrade Peter EseleÂ who gave reasons why the Workmensâ€™ Compensation Act has failed to meet theÂ needs of injured workersÂ said, â€œ the proposed ECBÂ will allow injuredÂ employees to collect benefitsÂ without being forcedÂ to file a personal injury claim against an employer that may or may not result in compensation.
It also protects employers against unmanageable liability. The proposed ECB is a movement from the current â€œAt faultâ€systemÂ into a â€œNo faultâ€ mandatory system. The employee is entitledÂ to benefits regardless of whether the injury was employerâ€™s fault, employeeâ€™s fault or caused by the negligence of another employeeâ€.
TUC general secretary, Comrade John Kolawole who was at the Senate public hearing said the implementation of the EC should be extended to theÂ informal sector
NECA- represented by Mrs. Uche Ajaegbo-Â We have been part of this bill together with NLC, TUC, NSITFÂ Â butÂ we have issues with the percentage of the to be contributedâ€™.Â Instead of one percent to which NECA, NLC and TUC earlier agreed,Â NECA made a shift and suggested 0.75%.Â She also made a shift in position when she saidÂ â€œ NSITF should be a regulatorâ€ and thatÂ private sector insurance should also beÂ part of the administration of Employees Compensation.
NLC- Her comments drew aÂ sharp reaction from NLC general secretary, Comrade John Odah who said,Â â€œÂ NECA agreed on NSITF as the implementation agency at the tripartite level since 2005.Â What NECA has done now is in bad taste.
WhatÂ theyÂ have done is to abdicate the principlesÂ in the process of tripartism which we are all a part off.Â We have the records of the meetings and NECAâ€™s position there,Â so we will present this to the Senate and the House of Representativesâ€.
People and Passion Consult Ltd-Â A non – governmental organisation represented by Comrade Salihu Lukman- â€˜â€œ The proposed ActÂ make provisionsÂ that are novel and also provideÂ an open and fair system of guranteed and adequate compensationÂ for all employeesÂ against occupational hazards ( even at theÂ point of death) arising in the course of employment.
It is easily accessible with minimal delay, so as to enforce occupational safety and health standardsÂ in Nigeria to be in accord with International Best Practices found in countries like South Africa, Brazil,Â Mexico, Poland, Algeria, Denmark,Tunisia,Cote Dâ€™ Voire.
Comrade Lukman said, â€œ There is no conflict here.Â Employers, NLC, TUC are in agreement on this bill.Â It does not repeal any insurance Actâ€.
Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity- The permanent secretary, Ambassador Chike Anigbo led a delegation of the ministry to the Senate public hearing. He spoke through the director inspectorate unit of the ministry, Mr.Â PaulÂ Okwulehi said the ministry is fully in support of the ECB .
He said â€œ for the first time, thereÂ isÂ a pool of fundsÂ from which an injuredÂ worker can benefit . This is whatÂ solidarity means.Â Â Â Secondly, it is a no fault bill.Â We are introducingÂ this bill and trusting in the committeeÂ that it will beÂ passed in the interestÂ of workers who get injured in the work placeâ€.
It’s unnecessary â€” Insurers
Whereas the majority endorsed the bill, a minority view opposed it and they were mainly from the insurance sector.
Speaking forÂ National Insurance Commission, ( NAICOM), Mr. SamuelÂ Onyeka said although his organisation was not averse to any form of social security, in the country,Â there is no need for the Employees Compensation Bill rather, he wants theÂ Workmensâ€™ Compensation Act to retained and the ministry of labour directedÂ toÂ enforce its implementation.
Nigeria Insurance Association – â€œThere is no needÂ to repeal the Workmensâ€™ Compensation Actâ€.
Lagos Chamber of Commerce-Â Â â€œthis additional cost of doing business may be a disincentive to investorsâ€™â€™ .Â He called for a review of the Workmensâ€™ Compensation Act rather than a replacement of the Act.
Employees Compensation Bill – This is an executive bill sent to the legislature by the executive arm of government.
It states ECB â€œAn Act to repeal the Workmensâ€™ Compensation Act 2004 and to make comprehensive provisions for Compensation for any death, injury, disease or disability arising out of or in the course of employment and for matters connected therewithâ€
Objectives of theÂ Act.
*To provide for an open and fair system of guarnteed and adequate compensation for all employeesÂ or their dependantsÂ or any death, injury, disease or disability arising oout of or in the course of employment.
* To provide rehabilitationÂ to employees with work-relatedÂ disabilitiesÂ as much as possible
* ToÂ establishÂ and maintain a solvent compensation fund managedÂ in the interestÂ of employees and employers
* To provide for fair and adequate assessments for employers
* To provide an appeal procedure that is simple, fair and accessible with minimal delays and
* to combine efforts and resources of relevant stakeholdersÂ for the preventionÂ of workplace disabilities, including the enforcement of occupational safety and health standardsâ€.