June 14, 2024

An Examination of the Nigerian Labour Law: Seven Ways a Nigerian Company May Advertently or Inadvertently Breach an Employee’s Right

Teri Wellington


Lots of Nigerian workers extol their work places. They argue amongst peers that their companies are the best or among the best in Nigeria. The magazines compile some of these companies and tag them as ‘Great places to work’ True, they may be great places to work by the general Nigerian standards. On a critical appraisal however, one may be forced to ask if these companies are so great as to be without blemish when weighed on the legislative scale of the Nigerian Labour Law?

In this work, I would examine the advertent and inadvertent ways employers breach the Labour law, the inadequacy of the penalties for breach of the provisions of this Law and a need for judicial review within the shortest practicable time.

Section 5 of The Nigerian Labour Law prohibits the deduction of staff wages or salaries as the case may be.

The only instances wherein these deductions may be permitted are in cases where the Company deducts for the funding of staff’s provident or pension funds or in instances wherein the Company overpaid the staff (This deduction must be made within three months of such overpayment). Asides the aforementioned instances, any Company that wishes to deduct from staff wages must write a designated labour officer appointed by the Minister of Labour (and productivity).

Section 1 of the Nigerian Labour Law mandates that staff must be paid their full wages in legal tender.

Any other means of payment is illegal, null and void. We have seen instances where Companies pay their staff in bitcoin or some other form of cryptocurrency which are not recognized by the Nigerian government and are considered progressive. Such companies need to be informed that all payments made in such prohibited form are void. An aggrieved staff may approach the Court for payment in legal tender despite having being paid in the illegal manner. It would then fall on the Court to ensure that justice is done in such situations. Justice in this case may be an order of Court mandating the conversion of the illegal payment into legal tender by the Company and paid to the aggrieved staff or worker.

Section 4 of the Labour Act prohibits the payment of advances to workers in excess of their wages for a month.

There is a common form of payment in some Nigerian companies. They term it upfront payment. This upfront payment is usually made at the beginning of the year and it largely exceeds the sum stipulated by the Labour Act. There is however, an exception to the rule of advances as captured in the Act; the State Authority (A Governor or Administrator of a state as defined by the Act) may exempt some categories of businesses or some companies from this rule.

Quarterly, bi-annual etc. payments are prohibited under the Labour Act. The Act stipulates in S. 8(4) that all wage payments shall be made monthly or in a period less than a month. The only instances wherein payments of wages is allowed at intervals exceeding a month is in a situation wherein a company obtained the authority of the State authority to make payments in periods longer than that stipulated by the Act.

In the event that a staff has to visit another worksite in the pursuit of his job with his employer and the worksite which he seeks to visit is sixteen kilometres or more away from the place of employment of the staff, a vehicle must be provided for the staff for such purpose. In the event that a Company fails to make a vehicle available, the Company shall pay the staff in lieu of the unavailability of a vehicle.

In the event that a vehicle is provided, the vehicle must be in good condition and must not be overcrowded or unsanitary.

There is a practice where staff rather than go on leave, stay back in the company and work. The management and other staff see them as very efficient and instrumental to the success of the company, they walk with their shoulders high like Egyptian overlords over slavish Israel. They are revered and they bask in the euphoria that flows therefrom. They get paid their allowances in lieu of actual leave. The Nigerian Labour Law in section 18(3) prohibits this practice. It shall be wrong for a person to be paid wages in lieu of actual leave. In the event that a Company wilfully and without due consultation with the staff (The consultation or deliberation with staff does not by any means make such payment in lieu legal) pays a staff in lieu of leave, then such a staff may approach the Court for respite and get in the least, a declarative judgment.

We have heard of instances where workers work all night. Some even go ahead to boast about their stay in the office at night. They recall the activities of the night and jokingly laugh at their ‘lazy’ colleagues who slept while they toiled. In as much as the Nigerian Labour Act encourages hard-work and legitimate labour, the Act (In Section 55) expressly prohibits women from partaking in night labour. Except a woman is a nurse, employed in an Agricultural Company or women holding responsible managerial positions, (The law does not define this position which may be subjected to a host of interpretations) the Act prohibits women from working between 10pm and 5am (Section 55(3a). From the provision above, it can be clearly gleaned that jf a woman is made to work till 11pm for example and she does not fall within any of the exempted categories, she may have a legal remedy for the breach against her occasioned by her employer.
It is left for the worker in the best places to work to go through this brief list and appraise whether their superstar company breaches any of provisions of the Labour Law.

The author strongly dissociates himself from unruly activism and haphazard leftism by workers in the event that their companies carry out an actual or perceived breach of any of these provisions.

A worker should in humility and meekness as are advised by our religions, approach their Human Resources or Administrative Officer and point out areas wherein these breach occurs. In the event that the meek and humble move of the obedient worker is resisted by unlawful termination or other forms of brutal castigation, the Court (the National Industrial Court) then steps in to adjudicate (If the aggrieved party goes before this Court).

In Conclusion

The average Company alter egos who come across this article may laugh in glee. They may be aware of section 21 of the Act that stipulates penalties for breach of some of the sections of this Act. They may be aware of the other penalties which they Act stipulates and may vow to continue in their unruly acts.

The penal provisions of the Nigerian Labour Law need to be reviewed. The fines for the breach of section 5 above is N800.00 (Eight Hundred Naira) and a subsequent offence attracts a fine of N1,500.00 (One Thousand Five Hundred Naira).

In as much as the Courts would not impose a fine of N800.00 (Eight Hundred Naira) if a matter bordering on section 5 (For example) is brought before it, it would save the judge a lot of stress and energy if the draftsmen can review the law and bring the figures stipulated as fines up to date.

Teri Wellington is the Managing Partner of The Wellington Practice, Lagos. He specialises in Human Rights Law, Entertainment Law, Property Law & Management. He can be reached at: wellington.teri@gmail.com.

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