By Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu
The Senate on Tuesday, passed for second reading, a Bill which seeks to review the Labour Act to provide stiffer penalties for various offences ranging from ill treatment of workers by employers, modern slavery, child labour to discrimination against women in the work place.
The legislation titled ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the labour Act Cap L1, LFN, 2004 to review labour fine and other related matters, 2021,’ is sponsored by Senator Francis Onyewuchi (Imo East).
According to the draft Bill, 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 and contracts of employment, among others.
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 licence in the new Section 47, as against the present fine of N200 for first offence and N2,000 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.
Onyewuchi, in his lead debate, said the bill seeks to amend the present fines for several offences in the Labour Act which are now obsolete and bring them in line with modern realities.
He said the amendment will serve as deterrent against labour-related offences.
He said: ”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.”
Contributing in support of the Bill, Senator Istifanus Gyang (PDP, Plateau North) said that the actions of employers that negate the rights of workers and constitute ill treatment can no longer be condoned.
The senator suggested that severe sanctions should be imposed to serve as a deterrent against such practices.
Also contributing, Senator Rochas Okorocha said the piece of legislation seeks to dignify labour and to remind everyone that labourers and workers are not beggars.
He said: ”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.”
The Bill, after scaling second reading, was referred by the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, to the Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity for further legislative work.
The committee chaired by Senator Abdullahi Barkiya is expected to report back to the Senate within four weeks.