BY: Obioma C. Appolos
Ideally, every worker either in public or private sector is entitled to a wage. Wage; which should be a source of living, because it is on the premise of wage-for-work that the concept of Living-Wage, which in its dictionary meaning is: “an amount of money you are paid for a job that is large enough to provide you with basic necessities (such as food and shelter) needed to live an acceptable life”, depends.
Among many definitions, a worker is simply said to be “a person who does a particular job to earn money.” Therefore; “a worker deserves his/her wage.” And any one; be it a government, institution, organisation or individual who in whatever capacity and for any reason refuses or is unable to pay a worker’s wage, is actually violating the worker’s human right.
However, the sorry tale of majority of workers in Nigeria especially at the States level, is heart-wrenching. This is because of a growing trend of non-payment of workers’ salaries as at when due by government and some private business owners.
And according to Dr. Mahfouz Adedimeji, a former Director, Centre for Peace and Development Studies at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, corruption and materialism among public office holders and some business owners, are the chief causes of the devastating trend.
Sadly, the effects of the issue has led to dreadful developments; as a lot of workers, especially in public service, have ended their lives on the account of non-payment of salaries, in order to put an end to their hardships.
To mention but a few, news broke in October, 2017, that a civil servant in Kogi State, North-Central Nigeria, allegedly committed suicide when he learnt that his wife had been delivered of a set of triplets. And it was gathered that he took his own life because he considered himself unfit to discharge his fatherly responsibilities to his family, after being owed 11 months salary by the State government.
Similarly, a Deputy Director in the Kogi State Ministry of Education, Mr David Haruna, allegedly slumped and died when he heard that the salary earlier scheduled to be paid to workers that day would no longer be paid.
Also, in 2018 in Ekiti State, South West Nigeria, a 49 year-old civil servant with the State Scholarship Board named Abolarinwa Olaroye, was found dangling from a tree. And his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Babalola, attested he died because he could not meet his financial responsibilities due to irregular payment of salaries. Another civil service worker in the same State, Tope Afolayan, committed suicide because he was unable to pay his debt as a result of unpaid salaries.
And earlier this year, 2019, a civil servant with the Benue State government in North-Central part of the country and who was owed 12 month salaries, allegedly committed suicide because he could not meet his financial obligations to his dependants.
Aside the fact that workers in Nigeria are said to be very poor due to the weak purchasing power of their wages, the aforementioned suicide cases and many other unreported ones were apparently avoidable. And there is no doubt, these suicide cases were as a result of the ongoing violation of workers’ human rights, that is, their right to earn their wage as at when due; having worked for it, which is the only condition thereof. What an irony of working to survive but rather working but dying?
Speaking of a worker’s human rights, the International Human Rights Law through its inclusion in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations General Assembly, in Part 111, Article 6 states that: “The States Parties (countries)to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts…”.
Likewise, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, of the African Union, stated also that: Every individual shall have the right to work under equitable and satisfactory conditions, and shall receive equal pay for the work”.
To this end, the question is: why has it become a new normal for employers in both the public and private sectors, not to pay workers as at when due, despite the existence of legislations forbidding the non-payment of workers salaries?
Workers in Nigeria: The IRONY of Working for Living but Dying
BY: Obioma C. Appolos