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The court has exclusive jurisdiction in civil causes and matters relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matter incidental thereto or connected therewith.

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Industrial Court declares Indefinite Leave Without Pay as Unfair Labour Practice, awards N5m damages against firm


1705 Thursday 9th May 2024

The Presiding Judge, Yenagoa Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Polycarp Hamman has declared the action of Metro Digital Limited directing Mr. Christian Okafor to proceed on indefinite unpaid leave as unfair labour practice.

 

The Court held that Metro Digital Limited could not justify the unilateral decision to force Mr. Christian Okafor to proceed on unpaid leave without any clear understanding of when he would be recalled and how his arrears of salary would be paid to him.

 

Justice Polycarp ordered Metro Digital Limited to pay Mr Christian Okafor the sum of N480, 000.00 as salary arrears for the months of November and December 2019 and February and March 2020, and the sum of N5, 000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) as general damages within 30 days.

 

From facts, the claimant- Mr. Christian Okafor had submitted that Metro Digital Limited asked him to proceed on unpaid leave on the 27th of March 2020, and since he was expecting his recall, he did not take any appointment. When he started the unpaid leave, he was owed salary for the months of November and December 2019, and also February and March 2020 amounting to the sum of N480, 000.00 and all efforts to get his entitlement were to no avail.

 

In defence, the defendant- Metro Digital Limited maintained that since the company was out of business from part of November 2019 till date, and Mr. Okafor never worked for the defendant throughout the period, Mr. Okafor is not entitled to the salaries claimed.

 

The defendant’s Counsel stated that the Internal Memo issued to Mr. Okafor and others terminated the contractual relationship partially by placing a conditional provision to same by way of not having activities to sustain Mr. Okafor’s continued employment and, urged the court to dismiss the case.

 

In opposition, Mr. Okafor’s counsel, U. N. Aganin Esq argued that there is nothing before the Court to show that the employment of his client has been terminated, and the fact that an employer does not provide work for an employee does not mean that the employee is not entitled to his salaries. The Court was urged to grant reliefs sought.

 

In a well-considered judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Polycarp Hamman stated that the defendant has not denied placing Mr. Okafor on a compulsory unpaid leave and there is nothing before the Court to show that Metro Digital Limited engaged either Mr. Okafor or all the workers in any form of negotiation before the decision was taken. 

 

Justice Polycarp faulted the action of Metro Digital Limited compelling the employees to proceed on an unpaid leave without pay as an unfair labour practice which the court deprecates with attendant consequences.

 

The Court stated that the contention of Metro Digital Limited that Mr. Okafor hastened to approach the court because over 40 employees were affected is only preposterous because the fact that the other employees chose to sleep on their rights does not in any way foreclose Mr. Okafor from coming to court. 

 

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