House Debates Criminalising Late Payment, Underpayment of Emoluments

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Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The House of Representatives wednesday briefly debated a bill seeking to criminalise the late payment and non-payment of wages and emoluments either by private or public sector employers.

Named: ‘A Bill for an Act to Prohibition of Late Payment, Non-Payment and Underpayment of Workers’ Wages, Pensions and other Emoluments in Nigeria and Prescribe Penalties for Violations and other related matters,” was stepped down to be reconsidered at a later date.

Sponsor of the bill, Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, lamented that the reports on workers being owed for months on end, has dominated the media in Nigeria.

He argued that non-payment of salaries and emoluments amounts to infringement of fundamental human rights.

“It infringes on the right to life which is determined by the quality of that life, it infringes on the right to dignity because the person goes begging from neighbours, family and friends to feed his children,” he said.

Gbajabiamila added that such workers are denied access to health care and denied the wherewithal to acquire property.

“It builds resentment. You cannot tell a child who sees the effects of his parents not being paid, to be patriotic. It encourages criminality, if we talk about security, we must talk about prompt payment of salaries,” he said.
Gbajabiamila however had to step down the bill as mounting opposition became evident among the lawmakers.

Hon. Linus Okorie, who spoke immediately after the Majority Leader, said most of the provisions of the bill, are contained in the Minimum Aage Act.

The Chairman, Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Orkev Jev agreed with Okorie.
He suggested that the inadequacies of the Minimum Wage Act contained in Gbajabiamila’s bill, can be provided for, by an amendment to the existing Act.
“If there is need for some of the interventions in the bill, then we should amend the Minimum Wage Act,” Jev said.

As the debate continued, several lawmakers were observed conferring with Gbajabiamila, who insisted that the bill was not about the Minimum Wage, but of emoluments generally.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara subtly urged the leader to step down the bill, to correct any perceived loopholes.

Gbajabiamila withdrew the bill, and on a light note, expressed his intention to include the ‘main opposers’ as co-sponsors, when it is re-presented.

THISDAY however gathered that the opposition to the bill and murmurings while Gbajabiamila was presenting the lead debate may not be unconnected to his vehement opposition to the immunity proposal for presiding officers of the National Assembly, which caused a rowdy session at plenary on Tuesday.

“Besides that, it will be a disgrace for a bill sponsored by the Leader of the House to be killed,” a lawmaker told THISDAY off record.