Friday, 17 August 2018

Employment in Nigeria

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A lot of employees have high expectations regarding their employers. They are interested in knowing what benefits and compensations they are entitled to from their employers as well as the legal obligations attached to their employment. These obligations vary from tax, health insurance, bill coverage to allowances, terminal benefits and compensations.

Employees want to be sure that they are not dismissed arbitrarily and that if they must be dismissed or have their employment terminated, the termination should, at least, follow the proper process.

With more job seekers than available jobs, employers are seen to have the upper hand and can dictate what happens with respect to the employment and its termination according to their whims. The protection which the law affords employees is based on the type of employment relationship existing between the employer and employee.

In Nigeria, the employment sector can be divided into the private and the public sector.

The private sector is mostly comprised of menial staff employees and those with written contracts. The employment of menial staff, such as manual and clerical staff, are mostly done orally with no tangible employment contracts between the employer and job seeker. Majority of workers under this category are artisans like e.g. carpenters, electricians, mechanic, house maids etc. These kinds of workers can be hired and fired at the will of the employer, for any reason or none at all. The relationship that exists between the workers and their employers is comparable to a master-servant relationship.

Staff in the private sector with written contracts of employment are usually those who work for private companies or organizations other than government-owned or statutory establishments. Most of these employees have a formal contract of employment with their employers. The employment contract clearly states the obligations of the employee to his employer and vice versa. However, employers have been known to take advantage of job seekers, including what may be considered harsh conditions into the contract of service. They rely on the laissez faire concept of contracts which is basically that a person enters into a contract on his own accord and of his own will without being forced by the other party, in this case, the employer. Simply put, when the employee signs the contract, he has agreed to the conditions of the employment. The principle of freedom of contracts is followed religiously in Nigeria.

Like the first group, employees under this category can be fired for any reason or none at all. The reason or motive for termination on the part of the employer is irrelevant so long as the provisions of the contract as regards the requirement and length of notice before termination are followed. If the contracts require notice to be given before termination, it usually stipulates a specific period of time before the date of termination or monetary value paid in the stead of the notice to be given.  Where such provisions are not followed, the employee may resort to a court action to enforce those provisions. The courts will not, however, force an employer to keep or reinstate an employee that it does not want. Neither will it force an unwilling employee to return to a job he does not want, in a case where the employee left without giving the adequate notice to his employer. What usually happens is the court may award damages to the aggrieved party and the damages in this scenario would be measured by the salaries and benefits the employee would have earned within the notice period.

Employees in the public sector are those who are public servants in the civil service or those who are employed in statutory corporations or agencies like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which is a corporation established by law. These type of jobs are also commonly known as employment with statutory flavor.

Employees in this sector generally have their employment protected by law and cannot be removed without a valid reason. Issues such as termination of employees, discipline and tenure of employees all have procedures laid-down in statutes which must be followed strictly before any decision affecting the employee can be made. Any such decision made without following the due process will be considered unlawful and can be revoked by the court.  Employees in this sector enjoy the sole privilege of having re-instatement orders made by the courts in situations where the laid down procedures as regards their termination are not followed.

The difference between employees of statutory corporations and agencies and employees with written contracts of employment in the private sector is that the contract of employment of the public sector employees are of a special kind because the procedure for appointment and removal of such employees are usually contained in the corporation or agency’s enabling statute. However, the mere fact that a company is a statutory organization does not immediately imply that its employees’ employments have this special character or benefit.

Employees have one fundamental right that cuts across all of the above categories. This is the right against discrimination on the basis of ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion, political opinion, circumstances of birth and even HIV status. There are no specific laws prohibiting discrimination against employees, however, the 1999 Constitution makes these provisions for all citizens. They can seek to enforce this right in the court or seek settlement from their employers before resorting to a court action.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian situation for employees has not reached its desired destination of ensuring adequate protection for all workers irrespective of the categories they fall into.

Follow NaijaLegalTalk to keep informed of any developments in this respect.

 

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