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BN Hot Topic: Strike Or Stop Working – How Do You Enforce Payment of Salaries?




Earlier on in the week on my way to work, I was listening to the news headlines on the radio and there was a report of a proposed strike action by the doctors in Lagos State. It was the same issue again – workers pay/benefits not being paid. One of the radio presenters said that the doctors should have learnt over the years that strike actions were ineffective and as such they should consider other means of trying to get their employer to do the right thing.

It got me thinking about the issue of non-remuneration of staff. In my little understanding of basic contracts and labour law, when you sign the contract of service, you are saying that you agree to work under the agreed terms in exchange for  a certain remuneration.  It is by virtue of this agreement/contract that you go to work and discharge your duties diligently (or otherwise for lazy, ineffective folk) In exchange for this service rendered, you’re contractually entitled to be paid. Or so we believe.

Recently, my friend, Avese tendered her resignation letter as the office administrator of an establishment in Abuja because she was tired of being owed her monthly pay by her employers. The situation had gotten so bad that the employers would empty the company account for either their charity organization projects or for a jet off to the middle east when the month was drawing to an end. As she was the administrator, she was constantly having to explain to staff why management was unable to pay as and when due. She complained that there was no time she had been paid earlier than 18 days into the next month. She said those were good months.  She had been battling with the decision to  resign; because when she first told them at home that she was tired of constantly having to beg for her salary she was reminded of how tough the job market was.

“If you resign now, will you now sit at home? Isn’t this better than being jobless? At least with this one, you know something will still come in.”

One month, she rebelled and decided not to go until she was paid. It worked.  As she lamented to me, I was very sad. I have never experienced being owed my salary before. In fact, in my former office, I remember how my boss would write a personal cheque for our salary in the event the firm didn’t make enough money to pay salaries. In my current office, my boss is very ethical and she does NOT play with such things. I’m grateful.

However, it makes me wonder if I was in that situation what I’d do! Would I resign?  Would I suffer in silence for months? How do people with dependants cope when they’re not paid for 3 months, 4 months… 7 months? THE HORROR! How is your staff expected to transport himself to work if he’s being owed? It should be fair to say that such a person may well be within his rights if he doesn’t show up at work as you haven’t fulfilled your part of the contractual obligation.

Someone said that the problem arises especially with the “New Age Entrepreneur” who promises a lot of money and allowances… higher than the business can sustain. The New Age Entrepreneur then realizes that the business is not turning over the proposed profits and as such overheads such as wages and salaries cannot be covered.  At this point, the New Age Entrepreneur expects the staff to “understand” that the business is not making money “shebi you too can see we didn’t really sell this month“.

Honestly, what is the solution to this problem? As an employee, will you leave if you’re being owed your monthly salary? Would you sit it out and hope for the best? Do you believe in strike actions as a way of forcing your employer to pay up as and when due? As an employer, do you have a justification for delaying the staff salaries? Would you write a personal cheque to cover staff salaries in the event the business is not making enough money to pay? Is there a reason why you should owe your employees for such a protracted period of time? Is it fair to say that the employee is well within his/her right not to show up at work if you are owing?

Let’s discuss!

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You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. Foluke

    June 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Me thinks it’s just wrong to owe salaries, if it’s a one-off, maybe ok, but when it becomes the norm, there’s a problem. Unfortunately, it happens a lot in our society.
    Our labour laws need to be strengthened so aggrieved employees can seek redress. Also, renumeration packages really need to be reviewed, labour is way too cheap in this country.

  2. jcsgrl

    June 27, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Hmnn…sighs. This is a situation I’m all too familiar with having worked for one or two man company in Abuja. You aptly labeled them “New Age Entrepreneur” rightly. My thing is not even about the business not generating money but how they still spend and live lavishly on their personal stuff in the face of not paying people salary. When money comes in, they blow on expensive vacays, high bonuses, their personal pet projects. So its not that money is not available, its just they lack ethics. And we wonder why Nigeria is the way it is. After my experience, I stopped blaming govt o! I must chop first syndrome is everywhere.
    Nyway, back to the topic, if you’re owed over 3 mths please resign. Take the leap of faith and plunge. Biko don’t waste time at a company that doesn’t value you. It might be hard at the beginning but with persistence, hard work and networking you will find something else to at least keep body and soul together.

  3. nich

    June 27, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    nigeria…always the same

  4. Lami

    June 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I agree with jesgrl..its just so wrong abeg!

  5. eniola

    June 27, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Dear Atoke, I love you as always but please take note, it’s ”as at when due” not as you have written ” as and when due” twice in your write-up. Don’t have no grudge trust me, na me love you pass. *kisses*
    Never experienced a delay in the payment of my salary, but if other affected staff members think it’s best we go on strike or stop work, so be it.

    • Neo

      June 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      On the contrary, Atoke was right. As and when due is grammatically correct. The use of the word “and” there is conjuctive implying in this context the payment of salaries as due (in this case say value of emoluments) AND when due (the period stipulated in my contract). Baiscally pay me what you owe me when you owe me. Even in accounting parlance the phrase “as and when due” is what is used.

      “As at when due” is an example of bad lingo which has become “acceptable” through constant use.

    • Mae

      June 27, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Thanks for setting us right. I have a deep horror of saying the wrong thing & have been guilty of saying this wrong (& thinking it was right) purely cos i had no knowledge of different. Thanks so much for this. Plus seeing how much sense your explanation makes, i could kick myself for not realizing this sef! Looool.

  6. Mz Socially Awkward...

    June 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    *shudders* Thank God I’ve never had that experience, even when I worked in Nigeria. You can say a lot of things about the Managing Solicitor of the firm I practised in but I’ll say this in his favor – that man never owed us salaries. Even if he no dey naija, he go coordinate payment from wherever he dey.

    I think @jscgirl above already pointed out the root cause of this problem – it’s really about the fundamental and personal ethics of your employer. Make I no lie, but this is the reason why if I dey chook eye for Naija to find work, e get only a limited number of companies wey I fit consider because while a certain “New Age Enterpreneur” couldn’t give a rats-ass about who knows he/she owes you 6months salary in arrears, if Chevron try am and I enter www. to broadcast that kain shameful thing, na serious disgrace be that.

    Atoke, strike actions are supported by labour laws and the companies/establishments that have staff belonging to labour unions know what the deal is. I pray the Lagos doctors don’t strik again, especially after the fatal consequences I heard of the last time a doctor’s strike was called.

  7. Bimby

    June 27, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I am also a victim o, 5months salary hanging, managements are no where to be found cos all their phones are not available. I just pray God will provide a better job for me soon. May God help us in this country.

  8. aleesha

    June 27, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    big no no! Hold up your own end of the bargain as an employer and pay me when due abeg. No point hanging on to a job that delays salaries or doesn’t pay at all for months on end.

  9. X-factor

    June 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    My thoughts,
    May be the job market is not as tough as we make it sound, 3 years after leaving a well paid jib in the bank and working with other small business owners, I ve come to realize that many of us are stuck in these unpleasant situations largely because of:
    1. Lack is the will power to confront our fears
    2. Poor social capital (Network of few smart minds who can be your leverage)
    3. Unhealthy peer rivalry and the need to belong
    4. Unwillingness to delay gratification for the purpose of building a successful enterprise
    5. We have simply not realized how capable and gifted we(Enough to add value to the market space)
    ….All summed in the choice of SURVIVAL over PURPOSE, (I guess that’s the rule of engagement given the naija circumstance).
    Honestly, I will want to believe that the responsibility to move our lives forward is primarily ours and not that any (selfish) employer……. I probably don’t understand working for 5 months’ pro-bono ‘ …that’s a bit too much guess
    If you have found yourself in this situation, I honestly think you need to Pause, Rediscover yourself and Change direction
    However, if the job is your passion, I guess you need to invest some time in growing multiple income streams

  10. Esco

    June 27, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Nothing really gets my goat, like when I hear about employers owing salaries. If you perform your end of the bargain by showing up for work and performing your duties, you have a right to get paid! In Nigeria, owed salaries is becoming the norm especially in “one-man businesses” where the company fortunes are tied to the owner’s excesses or disciplines. My sis once worked for an ATM company located on a highbrow street in the Island, where the owner decided who got paid (they were usually the female staff who he got laid co-incidentally). He also dared workers to do their worst and resign if they couldnt cope, as after all he was doing them a favour. And this boss never missed his summer and xmas vacation, or upgrades to the latest model of cars.
    My advise to people in this predicament, do one of the following:

    1. Carry one of the office PC’s and walk out of the building. Make sure it is one with senstive company data in the hard-drive. Dem go come find you

    2. If you have access to the company official car or blackberry, drive off with it and give it to someone to use as kabu kabu. If it is a blackberry, sell it at Slots and keep the cash

    3. If you are ‘servicing” the boss and he refuses to pay your salary (highly unlikely), get a photo of him in the nude and upload to Instagram or Nairland.

    4. Show up the office to mark register in the morning, and then leave to go and conduct your personal hustle. You gain both ways – you can boast to people that you have an office job, but you still get to hustle and keep the profits.

    5. Hire a charge-and-bail lawyer who is willing to make his name, and sue the hell out of the company. If you have some money to burn and are patient, you could hit the company hard and get a court to attach the company accounts so that you are reimbursed.

    6. “Cast” the company to EFCC if you know they have done any shady business

    7. Utilize all the company resources to educate and train yourself. If it is a law firm, read and learn as much as you can to make yourself more employeable in a better company. Use the company internet to read online journals and course materials in your spare time

    Good luck!

    • Shawn

      June 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      Lmaooo at ur list

    • Msunderstood

      June 27, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      Badt guy. I support u jare.

    • I Rock

      June 27, 2013 at 7:01 pm

      If you are the Esco that owns the website with all those funny stories then you should blog more. I enjoy reading your blog.

      As per the topic, its high time Nigerians learn to utilize their media more. I don’t know if there are investigative news channels in Nigeria but if there are, workers can contact these networks anonymously to come over to their workplaces and investigate whatever is going on by speaking to the bosses, other employees if they are willing to e.t.c. Once the boss sees him/her self on the 10pm or 11pm news, they will buckle up. They get away with it in Nigeria because they believe they are untouchable.

  11. Serical

    June 27, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    its so unfair and i think we should always stand up for our rights whenever we can but we have to be smart about it..if there is unity among the workers, a strike might be the best solution

    Do you really know sports? Check out a new sports competiton on twitter @SYTYKSPORTS
    there are many prices to be won, more details to come!

  12. dp

    June 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Men i have been in this situation before too ohhh, it was really heartbreaking, the ridiculous things is that when people walk into the office they think we are enjoying and the way the management dash out money to people and embark on dead end projects was so so alarming. Even at a point the management started using sack to scare people, staff were then begging to be sacked because if you get sacked you will be paid your arrears, but if one resigns your punishment was u might not be paid or u will have to wait for a while, personally i didnt mention it at home and a good thing for me was that i don’t have any dependant, but i still felt bad because basic things one is suppose to do when u live in people’s home i could not do it, not that i was asked oh but am sure in their mind they will think i am a very very stingy person, the day i got fed up i took the bold step.
    When i was about to leave the MD told me i had serious prospect in the company that i should go and think about it, that day when i left i did not even look back, and they are still owing me

  13. Neo

    June 27, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Its a tough one because we have this mentality of “bird in the hand” Its a tough market and employers know it so employees pay which should be top priority often gets put on the back burner. Also its difficult to walk away from a job when you’re being owed cos there’s the hope that you might still get paid. I’ve never experienced it but i know people who have and its terrible. My emplore delayed with this months salary by 2 days and i know how i felt, not to talk of 5 months!

    The sad reality is that the options open to employees are not really helpful. You walk away the truth is there are thousands ready to jump in your place, you go on strike you may lose your job. I remenber when Fashola threatened to sack the striking doctors. Going to court to enforec your contract is a lengthy and expensive process, even if/when you get judgment time may have devalued your entitlement. Labour unions aren’t very helpful except it directly concerns them. This again is one of the serious issues that plague our beloved country.

    My advice? Stick it out as best you can (pester management, write numerous letters/reminders), go to work use their resources to look for work and improve yourself daily. So that when you do move on you dont have a gap in your CV and you may have acquired additional skills/qualifications. But abeg anything more than 3 months is a big problem, would advise you leave and try any of Esco’s options. Lol.

  14. JADE

    June 27, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Ghen ghen, Esco, u dey vex oooo, i work in a one man business and my boss is sooo bitchy! she doesnt owe but when there are circumstances that require cash fast, she will tell you to be pro active (use ur money and u will be refunded) but to get that refund ehn, na war o. one time the company owed me 150k and after writing memo after memo after memo, the money was refunded, as soon as they paid salary i went home with my work laptop and didnt come to work for two days, another time an event venue owed us a refund, she said i wasnt aggressive enough in collecting it and witheld my salary. I stayed back late, took two laptops, locked the file room and went home. Travelled to PH from Lagos the next day and didnt show up to work till my salary was paid. I nor dey use my money play o. The most annoying aspect is the constant reminders that “im doing you a favor oh, there a million and one people out there who wil be willing to take your job at half your salary” my job description has been expanded 3 times in less than 6 months but my salary no follow expand. Anyhoo im resigning tomorrow against July 31st. Im ready to take risks and face my fears after all who says i cant start my own one man business???? 🙂

  15. Miss Anonymous

    June 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Hmmm….I once worked for a one man business (don’t know what I was thinking, I had previously done my NYSC in a one man company and had sworn never to do so again). Anyway the man would owe for weeks and there would be no explanation whatsoever. My other colleagues would just keep quiet and mumble about it without doing anything. He would then expect you to get into your car and drive all over Lagos selling his business when you couldn’t even buy fuel for your car. On one occasion he had the nerve to complain to me via email that I was slipping, I retorted asking how he expected me to perform when I was being owed without any explanation or assurances. The idiot then had the nerve to call me rude. I was subsequently asked to leave under the excuse that the company not able to cope with over heads, which wasn’t true, as dude was always hoping all over the continent. I knew he was just being vindictive. My salary for my final month was delayed for over 2 months.
    When I got another job (this time with a multinational), HR asked him to send in a reference and he wrote some distateful things about me. I was never told what he wrote exactly, but thank GOD for a good boss who called me and asked for the true picture of things. After explaining the conditions under which I left, my current boss told me not to worry that the bad reference would be overlooked.
    It was a horrible experience for me as I had always heard stories of staf salaries being withheld but hadn’t experienced it uo until then. You are never able to plan ahead, and most times have to dip into your savings. I agree with X factor and jcsgirl, if you are ever in that situation and it persists, just count your losses and take a walk.

  16. md

    June 27, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    hm, im not surprised at the non payment of salaries by private organizations. my husband is also a victim of this kind of situation. their case is so bad because they work for the govt, even at that dey have not been paid for abt 3yrs now. they strike, go to the court and the back and forth the way they work in the court is not helping issues at all. i think the best thing is to find ur way out of such an organization and look for somethin else to do until the court/gove decide to rule in such a case.

  17. Foluke

    June 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    The fear of the unknown keeps you in positions far below you.

    The first step is pray, God will open your eyes to see opportunities, seize those opportunities and you will be better off. Most great people didn’t have everything figured out but they took the bold step anyway. For most people, fear, laziness and the inability to delay gratification makes them remain in those crappy jobs. Dust yourself, improve your skills, network and you will get better!

  18. Shawn

    June 27, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    @Jade Looooool! Hilarious! Wish I was as bold as u are when I was faced with a situation like that….
    I finished my youth service in June, 2012 and told myself that I must get a job immediately even if na internship to keep myself busy and not stay home for a single day! Lo and behold I started work 11 days after POP. Manh! I enjoyed it at first even though the pay was just 35K. Told myself that it will be for now, but I will get smth better with time. My first payday, I was given 15K cos ‘u know we didn’t make any money this month, let’s pray we do next month’, goes my former boss. Other excuses I was to hear were stuff like I’m not doing my job well, that’s why money is not coming in. kai! I suffered. I became an online promoter, marketer, customer care personnel, cleaner and more. Yes, dude didn’t have someone to clean the office but would open his mouth to complain about the office being dirty! I don’t even have a contract to show I worked there till date. To cut my long story short, I left them 2nd week of Sept after they only paid me N30k for the 3months worked and didn’t seem like they were ready to pay anymore. Luckily, I got a new job in Oct. And the icing on the cake was when I was called by my former employer to collect the remaining salary owed me, a day before I started work at my new job 😀 😀 😀
    My advice, look before u leap. Most of all those one-man biz are just exploiters. Don’t look at the fact that they are popular, rich, etc as shown in the media. In fact, these people are soooo stingy! If u have a job that ur salary has never been delayed for one day even when your boss is away and are thinking of going to another, biko check well, cos like they say the devil u know… My new job has opened my eyes to loads of ish, woe unto the company that will employ me in future and gimme stories abt my salary….

  19. Shera

    June 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Just been reading some of the comments & I think people need to look at the bigger picture. Try to understand the stress & responsibility that private business owners are shouldering! Your own is just to go to work, do your thing & expect to be paid. Business owners are thinking of the fact that so many people & their families are totally dependent on them. Do you know how many pple ve died from thinking & worrying about this fact too much! It’s true- business is so not easy especially in these days. There are no jobs out there so someone decides to start a company. There will be good times & bad times. No one has the money of chevron & co. Take my father for example. I know how hard my father works & sometimes, he is not able to pay salary on time. He’s never been more than a month late but that is when things ve been extremely bad. When his business was doing well, he even gave all staff 100% salary increase. Now business is not so good, see staff complaining & bad mouthing him when salary is late. Before you say anything, my dad has been driving the same car for 8 years, he hardly buys any new clothes or stuff for him self & the last time he travelled, it was me & my siblings that surprised him with a ticket. He didn’t want to even travel as he was owing salary but we had to force him to go as he was travelling to see his new born grandson! My father doesn’t collect a salary for himself. All his money goes on expenses- running generator, buying water (they have tried so many times to dig borehole but no luck), stationary, petrol & salary. I myself work for a good company & my pay is always on time so sometimes, I give money to my dad to pay the cleaners & security since their money isn’t a lot. My dad is even thinking of shuting the business down. People should definitely try to understand the bigger picture. There’s a world beyond your own little bubble. Don’t think it’s all abt u & tht the sun rises & sets on ur head.

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      June 27, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      So…. because your dad is a business owner in his own unique situation, that essentially means that everyone else who is complaining about what they are going through in the hands of their own bosses in their own unique situations should just shut up and bear it?? Okay, we’ve heard.

    • Shera

      June 28, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      I didn’t say all should bear what is happening to them. The fact is that this topic is a common occurence but instead of pple complaining they can at least try to understand the situation their employer is in. If your employer is stingy, that is a different situation. But I don’t beleive all employers heartlessly withold staff salaries when they ve the money for it.
      @ Tolu- I’m not sure how one can be absolutely sure that another is living a lavish lifestlye.We can never know. Like I mentioned, the staff thought my dad was living the life esp when he went abroad not knowing it was his children footing the bill.
      Every situation is different but in true nigerian fashion, no matter what, all will sit, complain & bad mouth. Even if salary is paid on time, the next thing is that the salary is not enough.
      @ mo, if all business owners called it quits as soon as they started making a loss, then we wouldn’t have the likes of Apple, Mulberry, Disney & a lot of other successful companies out there. One can do all the right things but if economic conditions are not favourable then you can either call it quits or try again. It’s like farming, sometimes, rain may not come, crops will fail & you will make a loss. Does the farmer then decide to sell everything & lay staff off or does he hope for a better season? & my point about mentioning the car was to show tht my father put his workers’ welfare first before thinking of spending the profits he made. He knew there would be good times & bad times so he put money away & was prudent.
      No matter what, it is wrong to withold salaries but sometimes, it cannot be helped & that’s one situation that people don’t want to understand/consider.

    • Tolu

      June 28, 2013 at 6:59 am

      Did you actually read some of the Comments? If you did you would have realised that most of the complaints were towards Bosses who live lavish lifestyles at the expense of their Employees…

    • Neo

      June 28, 2013 at 9:35 am

      What your Dad needs to do in ideal and ethical business sense is cut back. If your business isnt doing well enough to afford overheads, you cut back. Even on staff. At least let them know the state of the business and if they choose to stay on, its also on them. Nobody should have to bear the responsibilities of a failing business other than the owner as ultimately the same owner bears its successes. Employees are entitled to salaries, not equal share in profits.

    • A-z

      June 29, 2013 at 7:05 am

      Neo well put, I believe what is required is sincerity and communication on the part of the employer, if business isn’t doing well there is absolutely nothing wrong with management meeting with staff and letting them know that cut backs are necessary or in dire circumstances all staffs will be sent home until things improve and courteously ask that they would appreciate if any staff chose to remain behind and work in arrears then promise to compensate them for it. I’m sure if the employer has a good track record of paying salaries then most staff will oblige

  20. mo

    June 28, 2013 at 12:57 am

    @ Shera, you are talking absolute nonsense!! Only in Naija can this foolishness happen… What is my business if my employer decides to drive the same car for 50yrs? Or decides he’s not buying clothes for himself? As long as i’m coming to work everyday and doing what my job description says, it is completely rational to expect my salary at the end of the month.
    The main problem is that many business owners don’t manage their money very well. The minute they earn a little profit, they are out booking tickets for a shopping trip to wherever at the detriment of their staff’s salaries. Many businesses should not even be in operation. If you are not making enough money to even pay your staff, it means you are not breaking even in the 1st place so why are you still in operation?

  21. NNENNE

    June 28, 2013 at 2:49 am

    Totally wrong to owe salaries.
    Employers should not hire more people than they can afford. Hire full time , part time and contract some workers. The former, gets benefits but the later is used as needed.
    Workers should be productive enough to make their salaries.
    Don’t expect the government to use tax payers money to pay you because you are complacent and non productive.

  22. christabel

    June 29, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    my husband works in a one man biz company and the experience is not funny. Most times I have to pay the bills and bear the responsilbility of ensuring that we do not lack anything. The company make enough money but immediately the company’receives payment, the MD just transfers half of the amount to his personal account. As I type this, three months salary is still unpaid o. On top of that he expects them to work during weekends o. 4 months Outstation allowances still unpaid..
    Forgive my typo errors o, am walking ni o

  23. gboye

    June 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    I had this experience 2 yrs ago working as an accountant. I was posted from a vibrant company to a dead subsidiary ’cause the new boss did not like my face. seeing the red account of the new company, i resigned the next day i resumed there , it was crazy but today am smiling ’cause it was one of the smartest decisions i ever took.

  24. nneka

    December 3, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Just reading this. That’s what I’m going through now. I’m being owed September, October, November and half of July salary. The unfortunate thing is that it is a management decision not to pay staff as a means of keeping them hostage. They know that once they pay staff will leave

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