A non-governmental organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has dragged the federal government and state governments in the country before the International Labour Organisation (ILO) over unpaid workers’ salaries.
SERAP is urging the ILO, through its governing body, to ‘suo motu’ and, in its own capacity, establish without delay a commission of inquiry to examine systematic and egregious non-observance of Convention No. 29 on forced labour and other international standards on the right of workers to timely payment of salaries.
The organisation, which made this request in a letter signed by SERAP’s executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, and addressed to ILO director-general, Guy Ryder, said the complaint was brought pursuant to articles 26-34 of the ILO constitution.
SERAP also sent a copy of the complaint to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Right
The complaint reads in part: “SERAP is seriously concerned that several state governments and the federal government of Nigeria are failing and/or refusing to pay workers’ salaries and pensioners’ entitlements, amounting to billions of dollars in arrears. The state governments that have failed and/or refused to pay workers’ salaries and pensioners’ entitlements include: Osun, Rivers, Oyo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, Plateau, Benue, and Bauchi states.”
“SERAP contends that the failure and/or refusal of state governments and federal government to pay workers’ salaries and allowances and pensioners’ entitlements is a clear violation of the right to work recognised by various ILO instruments and article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Nigeria is a state party. The right to work is essential for realising other human rights and forms an inseparable and inherent part of human dignity.
“Failure of states to pay workers’ salaries is tantamount to penalising them, and as the ILO has ruled, menace penalty amounts to forced labour and economic exploitation. This is because the workers have not offered themselves to work without pay.
SERAP also contended that the failure to pay workers’ salaries amounted to economic exploitation by denying then the income to support themselves and their families.
According to the NGO, The right to work contributes to the survival of the individual and to that of his/her family, and to his/her development and recognition within the community. Therefore, failing to pay workers’ salaries is violating their right to dignified living.
SERAP continued: “There is absolutely no justification why state governments or the federal government should not pay workers’ salaries. In fact international law provides that workers’ salaries must be paid even in times of severe resource constraints, as disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups must be protected by the adoption of targeted programmes to ensure that they live in dignity.
“SERAP also contends that the failure of the state governments and the federal government in Nigeria to pay workers’ salaries is as a result mismanagement of resources and corruption which, under the Covenant, amount to “deliberate retrogression” in the protection of the right to work.”
The group lamented that while ordinary Nigerian workers and pensioners are routinely denied their salaries and entitlements, senior government officials continue to receive their salaries and live lavishly, a kind of segregation.