Senate rolls out stiffer penalties for employers who indulge in modern slavery

March 17, 2021
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…As it reviews labour law

By Ignatius Okorocha 

The Senate, on Tuesday, began moves to review the Labour Act to provide stiffer penalties for various offences ranging from modern slavery, child Labour to discrimination against women in the work place. 

The amendment to the Labour law seeks to introduce stiffer penalties to punish employers who deny female employees maternity protection and discriminate against women during employment to fill positions in underground work or mines. 

Sponsor of the Labour Act Amendment Bill 2020, Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi, in his lead debate, said the bill “seeks to amend the present fines for his offences in the Labour Act which are now obsolete and bring them in line with modern realities.” 

According to the lawmaker, an amendment to the Act “will serve as deterrent against Labour related offences.”

He disclosed that the amendment Bill seeks the upward review of fines in the Labour Act for several offenses.

“The present fines for offenses in the Nigerian Labour Act are obsolete in context and content. 

“The sanction, penalty and interest payable under the Act are ridiculously low and do not reflect current economic realities. 

“These current provisions cannot provide the needed protection for workers in the labour market. 

“There is therefore a need to review these penalties/fines upwards in order to achieve fair and harmonious employee relations,”

Onyewuchi said. 

Details of the bill which scaled second reading on the floor during plenary showed that Section 21 proposed a fine of N500,000 and N1,000,000 from the present fine of N800 and N500 for first and second offences relating to “Breach of terms and conditions of employment”, as it relates to the wage hour, nature of employment, leave, contracts of employment, among others.

The amendment bill in Section 46 also proposed a new fine in the sum of N500,000 as against N500 for neglect or ill treatment of workers by employers; N500,000 and N1,000,000 for recruitment of employees without an employee’s permit or recruiters license in the new Section 47, as against the present Fine of N200 for first offence and N2000 for second or subsequent offences. 

On the other hand, Section 53 in the amendment bill sought an increase in fine from N500 for first offence and N200 for second or subsequent offences to N300,000 and N200,000 for inducement of apprentice to leave service of employment.

In another upward review of penalties, Section 58 proposed the sum of N200,000 and N100,000 for Denial of maternity protection and employment of women in underground work or mines in contrast with the Present Fine of N200 for first offence and N100 for second or subsequent offences. 

In a move to prohibit Child Labour in the country, Section 64 was reviewed by proposing a stiffer fine of N200,000 as against the present N100 for  employment of young persons in unreasonable circumstances e.g industries.

The piece of legislation was amended in Sections 67 and 68 by proposing a fine of N250,000 as against N1,500 for breach of regulations of the Minister as they relate to Labour health areas and registration of employers.

In addition, the amendment bill in Section 72 reviewed the fines for offenses committed by persons with intent to deceive in the employment of labour from N1000 for first offence and N500 for second or subsequent offences to N300,000 and N200,000, respectively. 

The bill proposed stiffer penalties to Section 73 to address forced labour by reviewing upward the present fine of N1000 for first offence and N200 for second or subsequent offences to N300,000 and N200,000. 

In Section 74 which provides for Breach of regulations made by the Minister with respect to Labour required in emergencies and for communal obligations, the bill raised the fine from N200 for first offence and N10 

for second or subsequent offences to N30,000 and N10,000. 

Also, the Labour Act amendment bill in Section 75 and 76 on contravention of records of wages and conditions of employment; returns and statistics of employees was amended to propose a N300,000 fine as against the present N200.

Whereas, in Sections 85 and 88 of the Principal Act (costs in court and fines for regulations made by the minister), the present fine of N50 for first offence and N500 for second or subsequent offences was reviewed to N50,000 and N500,000. 

Contributing to the debate, Senator Istifanus Gyang (PDP, Plateau North) said that “actions an policies of employers that negate the rights of workers and constitute ill treatment can no longer be condoned.”

The lawmaker, therefore, supported the fines against the offences, adding, “let’s impose severe sanctions that will serve as a deterrent against such practices.”

According to him, some of the ill treatment of workers are mostly linked to denial of maternity protection and employment of women, employment of young persons in unreasonable circumstances, as well as forced Labour of young persons. 

On his part, Senator Rochas Okorocha (APC, Imo West) while supporting the bill said the piece of legislation “seeks to dignify Labour and to remind us that Labourers and workers are not beggars.”

He added: “It is unfortunate today, that because of the high rate of unemployment, our sons and daughters are moving from different places – even in the National Assembly here – looking for white collar jobs which is not even forthcoming, and they look for these jobs under any condition, whatever they can do to get it.

“This is what we might call Labour abuse law to really inform employers on the need to treat their workers with dignity and with a sense of humanity.”

Another lawmaker, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North) said the amendment to the Labour Act factored three areas of concern: discrimination against women, child labour and modern slavery.

“Of particular interest to me is that, there are three Sections of this amendment that speak three very important Labour issues. The issue of discrimination against women in job schedule, for which Section 58 seeks to amend; and the issue of child Labour which Section 64 seeks to amend; and the issue of modern slavery in Section 73,” the lawmaker said. 

The bill after scaling second reading was referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity for further legislative work. 

The Committee is Chaired by Senator Abdullahi Kabir Barkiya is expected to report back to the Senate within four (4) weeks. 

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