NON PAYMENT OF SALARIES AND WAGES: INVITATION TO CRIME AND ANARCHY
“The failure to pay a worker his salary is one that is bound to have profound effect on the country. Where a worker is unable to receive his salary, it is not improbable that even those around him and particularly his dependents will suffer. He will be unable to take care of basic issues such as rent, food, and healthcare”.
A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the provisions of bill titled A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Late Payment, Non-Payment and Under-payment of Workers’ Wages, Pensions and other Emoluments in Nigeria and Prescribe Penalties for Violations and other Related Matters introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives by Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila of Lagos State. The bill was reportedly designed to ensure that every employer of labour whether private or public pays the wages, salaries, pensions and all benefits of its workers promptly without any delay weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly as may be agreed by parties in the contract of employment of the individual employee. In my appraisal of the said Bill I described it as “one of the most well intentioned bills conceived in modern times in Nigeria.” Although the sponsor of the Bill eventually withdrew it following observations from members of the House, I remain convinced that the problems it sought to address are still with us and as a matter of urgency require urgent attention.
It is no longer news that for a long time in Nigeria, workers in the public and private sector have suffered at the hands of their employers who have simply refused to pay them the salaries as and when due. Matters got to a head following the drastic drop in the price of oil, a development which affected revenue due to the states from the Federation account and ultimately, their ability to pay their workers. As a matter of fact, it became so bad that at a time, 33 of the 36 states of the Federation were reportedly incapable of paying their workers. A report on the findings by a Civic organisation on the subject in November 2016 stated as follows:
……33, out of the 36 states of the Federation, are unable to fulfill recurrent obligations. In 2015, BudgIT said only 19 states were in that situation. Before the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari officially declared that Nigeria was in a recession, few months ago, 17 states were reportedly able to meet up with recurrent needs, but, according to BudgIT’s report, only three states can now meet recurrent obligations. A report released by the organisation titled ‘State of States’ showed that only Lagos, Rivers and Enugu are the states that can fulfill obligations to its workers. Akwa Ibom reportedly placed last on the table of ability to meet monthly recurrent expenditure commitments followed by Bayelsa, Oyo and Osun, said BudgIT. Other weak states, according to BudgIT are Ogun, Plateau, Delta, Kwara, Adamawa, Abia, Benue, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kano, Cross River, Kogi, Imo, Ondo, Nassarawa, Yobe, Kaduna, Ekiti, Sokoto Borno and Taraba. Zamfara, Gombe, Anambra, Niger, Katsina, Ebonyi, Edo and Kebbi were classified as states with fair shortfalls.”
Regrettably, as stated earlier, workers in the private sector have not been spared the agony of unpaid salaries. Much like their counterparts in the private sector, they have been faced with the same frustrations associated with working without pay. While it is understandable that most of the problems that have brought about the shortfall in revenue are not unique to Nigeria, what does appear to be peculiar to Nigeria is the ease with which employers of labour abandon their obligations to pay salaries at the slightest of excuses. The failure to pay a worker his salary is one that is bound to have profound effect on the country. Where a worker is unable to receive his salary, it is not improbable that even those around him and particularly his dependents will suffer. He will be unable to take care of basic issues such as rent, food, and healthcare. His children will not only starve, they will also in all probability be sent home from school thereby bringing untold emotional suffering to the family. These are all factors which ultimately will affect productivity. Some months back it was also reported that Judges were owed salaries of upwards of three months. This should never have been allowed to happen.
I recall that when I started working as a pupil teacher on salary of one pound a month, non-payment of salaries was unknown. Hence workers were able to plan their expenses for the month. Indeed it was easy for workers then to obtain needed items on credit as traders were willing to give such credits based upon the knowledge and assurance that the customer would receive his salary and subsequently pay back what he owes. The reverse is however the case now. Some days ago, the Institute of Credit Administration advocated that Nigeria should transit from a cash and carry based economy to a credit based one in which citizens would be able to purchase items on credit and pay in instalments from their identifiable income. It was argued that such a transition would even reduce corruption as the requirement to pay fully before enjoying a service is one of the factors that currently encourages corruption. While this may have worked in other countries, the reluctance of Nigerian employers to pay their workers salaries as and when due is one that is bound to work against such a transition to a credit based system. Overall it also negatively affects the economy it stunts the growth of the middle-class without which no country can aspire to economic development.
Yet non-payment of salary is a situation which I believe is totally avoidable. A prudent employer, be it a government or a private company must be able to budget adequately for the payment of its workers. Thus with proper planning there should be no excuse for non-payment of salaries. If governments can budget for the upkeep of political appointees and the operation of political structures, then I do not see why payment of workers salary should attract lesser attention. Non-payment of salaries however one looks at it is unfair, improper, and an invitation to crime and anarchy! I cannot agree more with Honourable Gbajabiamila when he stated that:
“If we must fight corruption, workers’ salaries must be paid promptly because a worker deserves his wages…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…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.”
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON