The potential dangers of the workplace, especially in the construction, manufacturing, extractive industries and mining sectors has necessitated the provision of measures to ensure that an injured workman is adequately compensated for loss of employment and loss of income arising from workplace related injuries. Unfortunately, workers are often left to the whims and caprices of their employers, who in most cases treat their welfare with levity.
Early industrial employment conditions saw men and women workers receiving low wages, enduring long work hours, serving in hazardous job sites, and suffering from discrimination (including sexual harassment). Child labor was also prevalent. These issues led laborers to organize protests or to negotiate for just rewards and safe work environments.
When the International Labor Organization (ILO) was established in 1919, member-countries signed conventions that aimed “to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue in handling work-related issues.” The ILO encourages tripartism where representatives from state governments, employer organizations, and labor groups participate in consultations to identify ideal labor standards and policies. Later on, the ILO strengthened its campaign through its Decent Work Agenda (DWA). The DWA promotes fair and rights-based trade globalization to fight poverty.
Aside from compassionate employers and labor friendly political leaders, much credit in the evolution of a humane workplace goes to labor unions whose collective efforts resulted in many benefits for men and women workers in general. Through gaining political and legislative leverage, they successfully asserted their right to organize and collectively bargain for better work conditions. These include reduced work hours, wage increases, grievance and arbitration procedures, provisions for occupational safety and health, paid vacation and sick leaves, death and medical benefits, retirement pensions, and non-discriminatory policies on gender, religion, age, and race, among others.
The Federal Government of Nigeria, in compliance with its ratification of the ILO convention and its obligations thereunder,enacted the Workmen Compensation Act (1987) to provide for compensation for workmen injured in the course of their employment. This legislation, which was the first of its kind in Nigeria, sought to incorporate international standards relating to workmen’s compensation and cater for the welfare of injured workmen. This Act was however bedeviled by issues, which hampered its effectiveness in securing compensation for injured employees, thus necessitating a review of the law.
The Employees Compensation Act (2010) repealed the Workman’s Compensation Act and sought to flaws in the WCA. The Act is applicable to all government and private employees including the Nigeria Police Force, members of the diplomatic corps of Nigeria and members of various Para-military and security outfits in Nigeria.
NOTABLE FEATURES OF THE ECA (2010)
1. The ECA (2010) by re-labeling the ‘Workman’ (a term derived from the Feudal Master/Servant relationship) to ‘Employee’, covers a broader spectrum of persons employed and paid for the execution of specific or general duties by an employer.The enlarged definition also includes independent contractors and sub-contractors; however, staff falling within this category are expected to contribute jointly
2. The ECA empowers the National Social Insurance Trust Fund Management Board established under the National Social Insurance Trust Fund Act (1993) with the administration and management of Employees compensation and the Employees Compensation Fund created by the Act. This improves upon the erstwhile situation, where an administrative vacuum existed in the administration of Employee Compensation.
3.The ECA establishes a specific fund (containing a take off grant from government, employers contribution of 1% of monthly payroll, fees and assessments charged pursuant to the Act, proceeds of investment of the fund, gift and grants from any national or international organisation, and any funds that may accrue), from which compensations are paid to injured employees upon application. This serves to ensure and guarantee that injured employees are not left at the mercy of their employers or their insurers,but rather guarantees adequate compensations to injured employees, the validity of whose claims have been proven.
4. In order for an employee to be entitled to compensation under the ECA, they must have suffered the injury in the course of their employment, meaning that the employee must have been engaged in the duties for which they were employed, or doing something ancillary to, or incidental to such duties. This extend to accidents suffered between the employee’s place of work and principal/secondary residence, Accidents occurring where the employee usually takes his meals and accidents occurring at the place where the employee usually receives his remuneration.
5. In order to be entitled to Compensation under the ECA, the Employee only needs to establish the fact of injury in the place of employment, there is no need to establish negligence or breach of statutory duty on the part of the employer.
6. Notice must be given to the employer within 14 days of the occurrence of the injury or death; either by the employee himself or by his dependants. The notice should include the name of the employee, time and place of the occurrence, and the nature and cause of the injury (if known). Failure to deliver the notice shall act as a bar to any claims for compensation unless the employer had full knowledge of the disease or injuries, the information though insufficient is adequate to describe the disease or the injuries, or where the justice of the case requires otherwise.