By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—THE House of Representatives yesterday moved to prescribe punishment for employers in the country who either fail to pay salaries to their workers or pay workers salaries, wages and pensions late.
The bill, sponsored by the Majority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila was, however, stepped down by the sponsor, following observations made by some members that the bill was not justifiable and could only come up through an Act.
The speaker, Yakubu Dogara, who presided over the plenary, also in a diplomatic manner, advised the House Leader to have a second look at the bill and make all the necessary amendments on it, so it could be represented on the floor for consideration.
The bill, entitled A bill for an act to prohibit late payment, non-payment and under payment of workers’ wages, pension and other related emolument in Nigeria and prescribes penalties for violations and for other matters connected thereto” was slated for second reading yesterday before withdrawal.
The House, after listening to the sponsor, resolved that since there was an existing minimum wage Act, the sponsor should convert it to an amendment to the minimum wage Act instead of coming as a fresh law.
But in his lead debate, Gbajabiamila explained that the intention behind the bill was for “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 payment of wages, salaries, pensions and all benefits to workers are paid promptly without any delay weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly as may be agreed by parties in the contract of employment of the individual employee.”
According to him, non-payment or delay in the payment of workers’ salaries and emoluments is an infringement on their rights as enshrined in the 1999 constitution.
He lamented that evidence of workers being owed salaries in different organisations abound in the country.
“If we must fight corruption, workers’ salaries must be paid promptly because a worker deserves his wages,” Gbajabiamila said.
He further explained provisions in the bill: “An employer shall not hold on to the salary, wage, pension and any other benefit and emolument of any workman for a period of 7 (seven) days and above from the day the payment of such salary, wage, pension and any other benefit and emolument falls due save in the event of any force majeur.
“An employer is prohibited from entering into any contract with any workman for any deduction from the sum contracted to be paid by the employer to the workman, or for any payment to the employer by the workman for or in respect of bad or negligent work or injury to the material or other property of the employer or in respect of any fine unless:
“The terms of the contract contained in a notice kept constantly affixed at such place or places open to the workman and in such a position that it should be seen easily read and copied by any person whom it affects; or the contract is in writing signed by the workman.
“The deduction or payment to be made under the contract does not exceed the actual or estimated damage or loss occasioned to the employer by the proven Act or omission of the workman, or of some other person over whom he has control or for whom he has by the contract agreed to be responsible.”
The proposed bill also prescribed penalties that defaulters should pay, which include the payment of 10 percent wage to those that default for a period of one to seven days, and 20 percent of one month wage for those who delay to pay between eight and 30 days.
It further proposes payment of 30 percent of two months wage for employers that fail to pay between 30 to 60 days, while defaulters for 60 days and above; would pay 30 percent of the wage for the duration and one month imprisonment of the employer.
Commenting on the bill, Linus Okorie (PDP, Ebonyi) wondered whether the National Assembly had powers to legislate on punishment for non-payment or late payment of salaries.
For the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Orker Jev, since there exists a minimum wage Act, the bill could only come in form of an amendment.
The newly promoted Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and the first member of the Green Chamber to be bestowed with such an award, Edward Pwajok, SAN (PDP, Plateau) and Aminu Shehu Shagari (APC, Sokoto) lent their support to that of the Chairman, Rules and Business.
After all the necessary observations and comments, the sponsor of the bill, Gbajabiamila, withdrew it.