Titilola Hameed (PhD) is a Law Lecturer at Nigerian Law School and a Non-Executive Director at OSH Law and Resources Ltd.
What is employee compensation and what categories of workers are compensated?
Employee compensation refers to the settlement given to employees that are victims of accidents, diseases or deaths which mostly arise out of or in the course of employment. In the case of death of an employee, certain family members are the ones that receive such benefit to replace the financial support they would have otherwise received from the deceased, if he were still alive. Close relatives or dependants of the deceased would include such persons as spouses and children.
From the provisions of the Employee Compensation Act (ECA) 2010, the Law that presently regulates employee compensation, part of its objective is to:
“provide for 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 and; provide rehabilitation to employees with work-related disabilities as provided in this Act;”
What Nigerian Laws are in place to protect workers in workplaces in the country?
The Factories Act of 1987 is the main legislation that protects workers in workplaces in Nigeria. Many have found the provisions of the Factories Act to be obsolete and that they do not meet the evolving challenges confronting workers’ health and safety. As undesirable as the Law may be due to its inability to meet the health and safety demands of the Nigerian worker, unfortunately however, a Law remains extant, until it is repealed by another Law. It is worthy to mention however, that moves have been made in each new session of the National Assembly (since 2008) to pass a new law that would lead to the repeal of the Factories Act. This has however, remained unattainable till date.
Other Laws that are related to the protection of persons at work in Nigeria include: the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, the National Industrial Court Act 2006, the ILO OSH Convention C155 (which has been ratified by the Nigerian Government since 1981 but is yet to be domesticated). There are other pieces of legislation, which relate to other spheres of the economy and carry within them provisions on protection of workers. Examples include: the Petroleum Act 1969, the Mineral Oils (Safety) Regulations 1997; Oil in Navigable Waters Act 1968, Oil Pipelines Act, Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations (made pursuant to Section 9 of the Petroleum Act 1969) Petroleum Refining Regulations 1974, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (Establishment) Act 2006, Environmental Impact Assessment Act and the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency Act, amongst others.
Are employers protected under these Laws too?
I would say yes, employers are also protected under these Laws. For instance, the introductory part (referred in legislative drafting as the long title) of the Factories Act makes provision as follows:
An Act to provide for…factory workers and a wider spectrum of workers and other professionals exposed to occupational hazards, but for whom no adequate provisions had been formerly made; to make adequate provisions regarding the safety of workers to which the Act applies….
In other words, factory workers and a wider spectrum of workers and other professionals impliedly contemplates the protection of both employees as well as their employers.
Many workers get injured or die in the line of duty, especially in factories and other workplaces with poor commitment to health and safety. The sad thing is that some of those workers are unaware of their rights as it concerns compensation. How does the Law protect such workers?
Generally, every worker is expected to be protected from hazards arising out of or in the course of his duty, as provided for under the Factories Act and other related laws. In contemporary health and safety practices, persons in the workplace, inclusive of employees must pay attention to the protection of all persons that could be affected as a result of dangerous work practices or circumstances. This would amount in the reduction in workplace fatalities that may affect persons that are exposed. My personal view towards such challenges is for those concerned to play a proactive role as regards workplace protection and hazard prevention. Such roles include strengthening institutions that regulate OSH affairs, updating our laws to compete with best practice standards and improving notification processes. Others are access to OSH information needs be unfettered, relevant conventions need be ratified and domesticated, the Judiciary needs be well equipped to deal with OSH issues, etc. Once these are put in place, then it reduces the need for compensation. Rather than looking to compensation as succour for the injured worker, the focus should be on fortifying workplaces in a bid to prevent disastrous occurrences. This would lead to minimal reliance on worker compensation. Where hazards thereafter occur (as non-occurrence of hazards cannot be totally ruled out), the ECA 2010 makes robust compensation provisions for persons caught in the web of dangerous work practices.
At what point and for what reason can an employer legally refuse to give compensation to an injured worker or to the family of a deceased worker.
A good instance of this is as follows. According to the ECA 2010, where an incidence of injury or disabling occupational disease or death occurs in the workplace, it makes it mandatory for an employee or the dependants (as the case may be) to within 14 days of the occurrence or receipt of the information of the occurrence, inform the employer by giving information of the disease or injury to a manager, supervisor, first aid attendant, agent in charge of the work where the injury occurred or other appropriate representative of the employer. The details are required to be provided in prescribed forms providing specific information. Failure to provide the required information in the prescribed manner may arise in the non-consideration of the Board to award compensation (unless the applicant is able to satisfy the Board with reasons why it must backtrack its decision.