Aug 1, 2017

The Nigerian Worker And Occupational Hazards | Eberechi May Okoh

May 2017 - Stacey who works in a salon in Port Harcourt was hit by a car while going across the road to fetch water to wash a customer’s hair. The salon usually has water facilities but is undergoing a renovation which causes interruptions to their normal water supply. The accident resulted in a broken bone which has placed her off work and off earnings. This represents the kind of situations the Employees Compensation Act was enacted to deal with.

Employees compensation in Nigeria is governed by the Employees Compensation Act Cap E7A, LFN 2004 [ECA] and administered by the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund Management Board [Board]. In countries with a robust legislative framework, occupational health and safety legislations set the tone for how employers should make work places safe. With such legislation in place, the occasion for employee compensation should be minimized. As at today, occupational health and safety in the work place in Nigeria is regulated by the Factories Act Cap F1, LFN 2004. This Act has long become moribund with several attempts by erstwhile National Assemblies to repeal it and enact an Occupational Safety and Health Act. As at the 9th of March 2017, the Senate read the current Occupational Health and Safety Bill for the second time and referred it to the Senate Committee on Labour and Productivity. It remains to be seen if the current National Assembly will achieve success in repealing the Factories Act and replacing it with a much-needed Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The crucialness of occupational health and safety was buttressed at an event held in Abuja in April to commemorate the 2017 World Day for Safety and Health at Work. Mr. Dennis Zulu, the Country Director for the Nigerian International Labour Organization (“ILO”) office represented by Mr. Aly Cisse, the office Chief Technical Advisor stated that “ILO statistics show that a worker dies every 15 seconds while 153 workers have work-related accidents every 15 seconds globally”. He further revealed that 6, 300 people die daily as a result of occupational accidents or work related diseases[1].
The absence of an occupational health and safety legislation that addresses present day work-place realities sets the mode for increased cases of employee compensation.

The ECA which repealed the Workmen’s Compensation Act has the objective of providing an open and fair system of guaranteed and adequate compensation for all employees or their dependents for any death, injury, disease or disability arising out of or in the course of employment. It provides for a minimum monthly contribution of one per cent of the total monthly payroll by employers. It is noteworthy that this contribution is not to be deducted from the remuneration of the employee and thus constitutes an additional employment cost to employers.

In addition to accidents occasioned in the workplace, the ECA covers injuries sustained between the work place and the employee’s residence; the workplace and the place where the employee usually takes meals; the work place and the place where remuneration is usually received provided the employer has prior notification of such place.   It also covers injuries sustained where the employee is required to work both in and out of the workplace or where the employee has the permission of the employer to work outside the normal workplace. The Act lists several injuries and diseases and conditions under which compensation will arise. The percentage of compensation and the periods of payments are also provided for.
The ECA anticipates coverage for all workers in Nigeria and defines an employee to include persons employed under continuous, part-time, temporary, apprenticeship or casual basis including domestic servants. The definition covers oral and written contracts of employment. The Act specifically provides that in the case of independent contractors and sub-contractors, the person or organization engaging the service and the independent contractor shall be jointly liable for assessments under the Act relating to that work.

The claims procedure begins with an injured employee, or in the case of death the deceased employee’s dependant, informing the employer of the injury or death and the particulars of the injury within fourteen days of occurrence or receipt of information of occurrence. The employer in turn has an obligation to make the report to the Board within seven days of receiving the information. By the provisions of the law, the application for compensation to the Board ought to be made within one year after the date of the death, injury or disability. Failure to make the application within the prescribed time may disentitle the beneficiary to compensation unless the Board is satisfied that special circumstances precluded the filing of an application within the first year. In practice, employees sustaining work related injuries may be treated by their employers who in turn make claims to the Board for reimbursements with documented evidence of expenses and proper medical reports. In the case of death, the Board makes payments directly to the deceased’s dependants.

As earlier stated, the essence of the ECA is to provide an open and fair system of guaranteed and adequate compensation for all employees or their dependants for any death, injury, disease or disability arising out of or in the course of employment. The question however is:  how do these benefits become accessible to Stacey and the numerous undocumented workers who get injured daily?

Clearly, the current national economy and employment disequilibrium affords little incentive for an employer of unskilled labour or casual workers to comply with the ECA. This is further worsened by the fact that most casual workers are completely undocumented. The employees on the receiving end will also rather keep a job than worry about a lack of coverage in the event of a work-related injury or disease. Accordingly, employees such as Stacey for whom remittances are not made, will never get compensated. Unfortunately, many Nigerian citizens employed on temporary or permanent basis whose employments are not divulged to the Board could die while carrying out their works and such deaths will never be compensated for.

Eberechi May Okoh
Senior Associate at Streamsowers & Kohn

Ed’s Note – This article was first published here