A lot of employees have a lot of expectations from their employers. They are interested in knowing what benefits or provisions/compensations they receive from their employers as well as the legal obligations their employers have to them after they have been employed. These vary from tax obligations, health insurance and bill coverage, to allowances and the likes, to terminal benefits and compensation.
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 follow the proper process.
There are basically 3 classes of employees in Nigeria, namely-
- Manual and clerical staff;
- Employees with written contracts of employment; and
- Employees whose employment is with statutory flavor.
With so many more job seeker than available jobs, employers have an upper hand and dictate what happens in the employment and termination of employments according their own whims and caprices. The protection which the law affords employees is based on the type of employment relationship existing between the employer and employee as classified in the above groups.
Employees in the first two groups are employed in the private sector while employees in the last category are employed in the public sector or government related employment.
For the first group- manual and clerical staff, employments are mostly entered orally with no employment contracts entered into by 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.
Workers who fall into the second group are those who work for companies or organizations other than government-owned or statutory establishments. These employees enter into a contract of employment with their employers upon their employment. The employment contract basically contains the obligations of the employee to his employer and vice versa. Many employers however, tend to take undue advantage of the job seeker’s unemployed status to include harsh conditions into the contract of service. They rely on the laissez faire concept of contracts which basically posit that a person enters into a contract on his own accord and of his own will; without compulsion or force on the part of the other party, in this case the employer. Simply put, when the employee appends his signature on 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 can resort to a court action to enforce those provisions. The courts will not however, compel 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 the case of the employee leaving without giving the adequate notice to his employer. What happens most often than not, is that the court would award damages and the damages in this scenario would be measured by the salaries and benefits the employee would have earned within the notice period.
Employees who fall in the last category are those who are public servants in the civil service or those whose are employed in statutory corporations or agencies like employees of organizations like the NNPC which is a corporation established by law.
Employees under this third category 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 statute which must be followed strictly before any decision affecting the employee can be made. Any decision made which doing this will be considered unlawful and can be revoked by the court. Employees under this category enjoy the sole privilege of having re-instatement orders made by the court in situations where the laid down procedures as regards their termination are not followed.
For statutory corporations or agencies, even though the employees enter into a contract of employment with their employers, these contracts of employment are of a special kind and are treated differently from the contracts of employment in the 2nd category above because such employments are provisions of the law. However, before employees of statutory corporations or agencies classify their employment as having statutory flavor, the procedure for appointment and removal of such employees must be contained in the enabling statute else the employee would fall into the 2nd category. This simply means that 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.
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