The Hon. President of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Benedict Kanyip, PhD, OFR has declared that Law Officers Association of Nigeria have the rights under the 1999 Constitution and other relevant laws in Nigeria to associate and function as a trade union, and ordered the Registrar of Trade Unions to immediately register the association as a trade union having fulfilled all the prerequisites and/or requirements for the registration.
The Court declared that Law Officers who are members of the Law Officers Association of Nigeria (LOAN) are employees in the Executive Arm of Government and are not in the same employment or organization as the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) who are employees in the Judicial Arm of Government in Nigeria.
Justice Kanyip made an order of certiorari quashing the refusal of the Minister of Labour and Employment and/or the Registrar of Trade Unions to register the Law Officers Association of Nigeria (LOAN) as a trade union.
From facts, the claimants- Yusuf Abdulkadir, Joseph Jebba and 15 others had submitted that on 29 June 2012, they applied to be registered as a trade union under the Trade Unions Act and the Registrar of Trade Unions (RTU) declined their registration which prompted them to appeal against the decision of the RTU to the Minster of Labour and Employment.
They averred that no immediate response from the Minister of Labour was received until 3 November 2021 declining their request for registration and was asked to align with the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN).
They asked for a determination of whether the Registrar of Trade Unions can refuse the registration of the Law Officers Association of Nigeria (LOAN) without any justifiable reason(s) amongst others.
In defense, the 1st and 2nd defendants- Minister of Labour & Employment and The Registrar of Trade Unions filed a preliminary objection praying that the suit be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that the suit is not properly constituted, and the originating summons and other accompanying processes are incompetent in law because the members of Law Officers Association of Nigeria failed to fulfil a condition precedent enshrined in the Trade Union Act before instituting the suit.
The 4th defendant- The President, Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) submitted that the members of the Law Officers Association of Nigeria coming from the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation/States, Solicitor General and State Counsel, Registrars and Legal Assistants to Judges are covered by their union, and claimants’ having waived their right to appeal the decision of the Registrar of Trade Unions within the 30 days allowed for them to do so, cannot rectify same by filing the suit, urging the Court to dismiss the claims of the claimants in their entirety and with a substantial cost for being incompetent.
In opposition, members of the Law Officers Association of Nigeria averred that the right to freely associate and or belong to an association of his/her choice is inalienable and same is constitutionally guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution, that the members of JUSUN are not lawyers but by virtue of the Law Officers Act, Law Officers are mandatorily lawyers duly called to the Nigerian Bar. And by virtue of their employment, they are not in the Judicial Arm of Government, urged the Court to discountenance the written address of the 4th defendant and grant the claimants’ prayers.
Delivering judgment, the Hon. President of the Court, Hon. Justice Benedict Kanyip dismissed the objections for lacking merit and declared the refusal of the Registrar of Trade Unions to register the Law Officer Association of Nigeria as a trade union as unconstitutional, unjustifiable, null and void.
The Court held that the generally accepted principle by the International Labour Organization is trade union plurality. But if the workers or employers so wish, the decision being theirs, they can settle for a trade union monopoly.
Justice Kanyip ruled that ILO feels strongly about trade union pluralism and the Committee has suggested that a State should amend its legislation so as to make it clear that when a trade union already exists for the same employees as those whom a new trade union seeking registration is organizing or is proposing to organize, or the fact that the existing union holds a bargaining certificate in respect of such class of employees, this cannot give rise to objections of sufficient substance to justify the registrar in refusing to register the new union.
“So whether it is on the basis of the arguments of the claimants and the 3rd defendant, or the ILO jurisprudence just espoused on Convention No. 87, the 1st and 2nd defendants acted wrongly when they denied the registration of LOAN as a trade union.”