Unpaid wages: An abuse of labour rights
CIVIL Servants are the minds through which government responsibilities are undertaken. They ensure the implementation of Government policies and directive principles of the Constitution.
They assist the government in carrying out the responsibilities assigned to her, responsibilities that cannot be subrogated to other sections of the Nigerian society.
Therefore every government that is serious about fulfilling the responsibilities that has been saddled on her must ensure that Civil Servants are properly and timely paid their salaries and benefits.
Provision of Infrastructural development need not be at parallel lines, or be mutually exclusive with payment of workers’ salary. While it is necessary to commit to infrastructural development, it must be noted by every government that the law does not command the impossible.
As such, pretending to undertake misplaced infrastructural elephant projects at the detriment of workers’ basic welfare is an affront on the rights to human dignity of the affected workers.
The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as enshrined in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not encourage the starvation of any class of people including civil servants.
Section 16 (1) of the Constitution provides that the government shall “control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity.
Section 16 (2) (b) further directs that “the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.”
It is therefore imperative that every government must find a balance between the welfare of the civil servants and the infrastructural development of the society.
The failure of the Government in securing the welfare of the Civil Servants and the lack of attendant enforceable sanctions and remedy for the mass of affected workers, indicts our Labour Law as too weak to bring the Government in check when it abuses workers mass rights as currently being done.
While a short term resolution is being expected to assuage the needless pains Civil Servants have been put through over the months, it would be necessary to re-evaluate the Labour Act to meet with the new dynamic labour challenges that Workers are facing. Perhaps, it is time to make payment of workers’ salaries the priority before any public official is paid.
If workers cannot be paid, we can as well not pay public officials who are responsible for the proper, or improper, management of the resources in the first place.
Sanctions and penalties for defaulters of the Act, which is inclusive of the government, should be better spelt out, and enforced. In provision of sanctions and penalties, the amendment must not only criminalize the breach but also provide for compensation for the aggrieved workers.
An effective system must also be developed to ensure that such breaches are reported while also providing for the non-victimization of the whistle-blower.
Fortunately, the newly inaugurated administration in setting a new agenda for the country has emphasized the indispensable role of the Nigerian worker, and the Labour Unions.
It would therefore be instructive that the new government pays proper attention to the plight of the workers and ensure that their salaries and benefits are paid promptly, and likewise must not turn a blind eye to the perpetual refusal of some state and local government to pay salaries of their diverse workers.
It should ensure, in keeping up with “Change” mantra that it provides for a robust system that ensures a satisfying reward for workers. The new administration must also create a proper monitoring strategy that tracks private employers who also breach the provisions of the Law with respect to prompt payment of workers’ due salaries.
The new administration must not just seek to create jobs for the unemployed but also seek to keep the employed paid so that the fundamental objectives of the state can be achieved.
It would be a disaster that the new administration, which has the goodwill of the masses, including the currently oppressed Civil Servants, should fail in providing a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework that ensures the betterment of workers’ welfare in Nigeria. Akinpelu is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner