Nigeria is ranked 157 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index. The country, presently has an estimate of 87 million people living in extreme poverty and 40.3 million people in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage.
It means there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world. One in four victims of modern slavery is children.
According to the United Nations Children Education Fund, UNICEF, “economic hardship exacts a toll on millions of families worldwide – and in some places, it comes at the price of a child’s physical safety.” It added that “nearly one in 10 children across the globe (around 152 million) are subjected to child labour, almost half of whom are in hazardous forms of work.”
“Children may be driven into work for various reasons. Most often, child labour occurs when families face financial challenges or uncertainty – whether due to poverty, sudden illness of a caregiver, or job loss of a primary wage earner.
“The consequences are staggering. Child labour can result in extreme bodily and mental harm, and even death. It can lead to slavery and sexual or economic exploitation. And in nearly every case, it cuts children off from schooling and health care, restricting their fundamental rights and threatening their futures,” the agency stressed.
These may have informed the Senate moves to review the Labour Act to provide stiffer penalties for various offences ranging from modern slavery, child Labour to discrimination against women in the workplace.
The amendment to the Labour law seeks to introduce stiffer penalties to punish employers who deny female employees maternity protection and discriminate against women during employment to fill positions in underground work or mines.
Sponsor of the Labour Act Amendment Bill 2020, Senator Ezenwa Francis Onyewuchi, in his lead debate, said the bill “seeks to amend the present fines for his offences in the Labour Act which are now obsolete and bring them in line with modern realities.”
According to the lawmaker, an amendment to the Act “will serve as a deterrent against Labour related offences.” He disclosed that the amendment Bill seeks the upward review of fines in the Labour Act for several offences.
“The present fines for offences in the Nigerian Labour Act are obsolete in context and content.
“The sanction, penalty and interest payable under the Act are ridiculously low and do not reflect current economic realities.
“These current provisions cannot provide the needed protection for workers in the labour market.
“There is, therefore, a need to review these penalties/fines upwards in order to achieve fair and harmonious employee relations,”  Onyewuchi said.
Details of the bill which scaled second reading on the floor during plenary showed that Section 21 proposed a fine of N500,000 and N1,000,000 from the present fine of N800 and N500 for first and second offences relating to “Breach of terms and conditions of employment”, as it relates to the wage-hour, nature of employment, leave, contracts of employment, among others.
The amendment bill in Section 46 also proposed a new fine in the sum of N500,000 as against N500 for neglect or ill-treatment of workers by employers; N500,000 and N1,000,000 for recruitment of employees without an employee’s permit or recruiters license in the new Section 47, as against the present Fine of N200 for first offence and N2000 for second or subsequent offences.
On the other hand, Section 53 in the amendment bill sought an increase in a fine from N500 for the first offence and N200 for second or subsequent offences to N300,000 and N200,000 for inducement of apprentice to leave service of employment.
In another upward review of penalties, Section 58 proposed the sum of N200,000 and N100,000 for denial of maternity protection and employment of women in underground work or mines in contrast with the Present Fine of N200 for first offence and N100 for second or subsequent offences.
In a move to prohibit Child Labour in the country, Section 64 was reviewed by proposing a stiffer fine of N200,000 as against the present N100 for employment of young persons in unreasonable circumstances e.g industries.
The piece of legislation was amended in Sections 67 and 68 by proposing a fine of N250,000 as against N1,500 for breach of regulations of the Minister as they relate to Labour health areas and registration of employers.
In addition, the amendment bill in Section 72 reviewed the fines for offences committed by persons with intent to deceive in the employment of labour from N1000 for the first offence and N500 for second or subsequent offences to N300,000 and N200,000, respectively.
The bill proposed stiffer penalties to Section 73 to address forced labour by reviewing upward the present fine of N1000 for first offence and N200 for second or subsequent offences to N300,000 and N200,000.
In Section 74 which provides for the Breach of regulations made by the Minister with respect to Labour required in emergencies and for communal obligations, the bill raised the fine from N200 for first offence and N10 for second or subsequent offences to N30,000 and N10,000.
Also, the Labour Act amendment bill in Section 75 and 76 on contravention of records of wages and conditions of employment; returns and statistics of employees were amended to propose an N300,000 fine as against the present N200.
Whereas, in Sections 85 and 88 of the Principal Act (costs in court and fines for regulations made by the minister), the present fine of N50 for the first offence and N500 for second or subsequent offences was reviewed to N50,000 and N500,000.
Contributing to the debate, Senator Istifanus Gyang (PDP Plateau North) said that “actions and policies of employers that negate the rights of workers and constitute ill treatment can no longer be condoned.”
The lawmaker, therefore, supported the fines against the offences, adding, “let’s impose severe sanctions that will serve as a deterrent against such practices.”
On his part, Senator Rochas Okorocha (APC Imo West) while supporting the bill, said the piece of legislation “seeks to dignify Labour and to remind us that Labourers and workers are not beggars.”
He added: “It is unfortunate today, that because of the high rate of unemployment, our sons and daughters are moving from different places – even in the National Assembly here – looking for white-collar jobs which are not even forthcoming, and they look for these jobs under any condition they can do to get it.
“This is what we might call Labour abuse law to really inform employers on the need to treat their workers with dignity and with a sense of humanity.”
The bill after scaling the second reading was referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity for further legislative work. The committee, chaired by Senator Abdullahi Kabir Barkiya is expected to report back to the upper legislative chamber within four weeks.
The Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, launched at the 72nd meeting of the UN General Assembly, urges countries to publish national strategies to end modern slavery and calls for international cooperation “to reduce the drivers of forced labour … and to protect the most vulnerable.”
Of the 40-45 million people affected by forced labour and forced marriage globally, 71 per cent are women and girls.
In 2016, an estimated four million adults and one million children were sexually exploited for commercial gain; of these, 99 per cent were identified as female.
Nigeria had in 2003 created a National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP with the purpose of fighting human trafficking through the 4P strategy – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership.
However, insufficient resources have meant that the scope of actions has remained restricted. In 2015, the government amended the 2003 Trafficking in Persons Law Enforcement and Administration Act, increasing the penalties for traffickers, and several cases were prosecuted.
Gaps in cooperation between Nigeria and destination countries has meant that criminal justice responses have yielded limited results but recently, Nigeria has been praised for more sophisticated collaboration with foreign states.
At the local level, however, a number of factors continue to hinder police and government efforts. The government also has structures to provide initial screening and assistance for victims through government-run services such as medical care, vocational training, education and housing.
In some instances, the government refers to cases to NGOs for shelter and services such as trauma management and psychosocial support. These services are vital for survivors’ protection, but they have sometimes been misused.
For example, there are reports of child trafficking victims assigned to foster homes or orphanages, and women who were voluntarily engaged in sex work, being detained in shelters against their will.
In addition, although NAPTIP has provided police, immigration, and social services personnel with training on how to identify trafficking victims and direct them to NAPTIP, at present, only NAPTIP can designate an individual as a victim of trafficking in Nigeria.
The federal government has also invested in awareness campaigns through media, school visits and education of transportation carriers. In August 2018, it launched an app that allows members of the public to report cases of human trafficking.
However, age and gender-sensitive responses are needed to address the disproportionate impact of modern slavery on adolescent girls and young women, but the evidence base in this area remains limited.
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Nigeria had in 2003 created a National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP with the purpose of fighting human trafficking through the 4P strategy – Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership.

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