….issues injunction against arrest of labour union members
The National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja, on Friday, stopped further proceedings of the judicial commission of inquiry Governor Nasir El-Rufai set up to probe and prescribe necessary punishment against those that participated in the five days warning strike the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, recently held in Kaduna State.
The court, in a ruling that was delivered by Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae, restrained the nine-member panel of inquiry headed by a former Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Justice Ishaq Bello, from “enquiring into, deliberating upon, investigating, or from continuing to enquire into, deliberate upon, investigate, or procuring evidence, whether by compelling the attendance before it (by issuance of witness summons(es) or Warrant(s) of arrest, or howsoever otherwise)”, of NLC members or other members of the public to tender any evidence before it in relation to the strike action.
It further granted, “An order of interim injunction restraining the 3rd defendant/respondent (Panel of Inquiry) from giving effect to and/or acting pursuant to the powers contained in the Terms of Reference of the 3rd Defendant dated 6th July 2021 as set up by the 1st Defendant under the Commissions of Inquiry Law (Cap 34), Laws of Kaduna State of Nigeria, until the determination of the claimants’/applicants’ Motion for Interlocutory Injunction filed contemporaneously with the filing of this ex-parte application, or further order”.
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As well as, “An order of interim injunction restraining the defendants, whether acting by themselves, their servants, agents, privies or otherwise howsoever, from inviting, ascertaining, examining, procuring evidence, summoning, subpoenaing, making orders as to cost and compelling members of the 1st claimant/applicant to attend any hearing session, meeting, “trial”, interrogation, investigation, panel session, howsoever called, in relation to, and/or connected with the 1st claimant/applicant’s warning strike of May 16 2021 to May 19 2021, and the actions and events associated with it, until the determination of the claimants’/applicants’ Motion for Interlocutory Injunction filed contemporaneously with the filing of this ex-parte application, or further order”.
The court directed that the court processes should be served on governor El-Rufai, Attorney-General of the State, the panel and all it members who were cited as Defendants/Respondents in the matter, through the Kaduna State Government House.
Justice Obaseki-Osaghae subsequently adjourned the matter till September 30 for hearing.
The orders followed an ex-parte application the NLC, its National President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the Deputy-President, Comrade Joe Ajaero and the NLC Chairman in Kaduna State, Comrade Ayuba Sulaiman, argued through their lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
Aside governor El-Rufai, the Kaduna AG and the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, cited as 1st to 3rd Defendants, other Defendants in the matter are Chairman and members of the panel- Justice Bello, AVM Rabiu Dabo, Mr. Eyo. O. Ekpo, Mrs. Joan Jatau-Kadiya, Mr. Chom Bagu, Dr. Nasirudeen Usman, Malam Mohammed Aliyu, Mr. Daniel Enwelum, and Secretary of the panel, Mr. Musa Kakaki.
The Claimants, in a 56-paragraphed supporting affidavit that was deposed to by Comrade Benson Upah, the Head of Information and Public Affairs of the NLC, urged the court to in the interest of Justice, quash the establishment of the panel.
They told the court that the NLC and its leaders have been embroiled in a protracted labour dispute with the Kaduna state government “over its obnoxious anti-worker policies: arbitrary and illegal declaration of redundancies; premature compulsory retirement of all officers on grade levels 14 and above”.
“That Sometime on or about 4th January 2021, the 1st defendant (El-Rufai) issued a directive purporting to restructure and reform the Civil Service of Kaduna State with the aim of reducing its workforce.
“That by the aforesaid directive, the 1st defendant ordered as follows: That all employees of Kaduna State Government who are fifty (50) years and above be compulsory retired;
“That all employees of Kaduna State Government on Grade Level 14 and above be compulsorily retired even if they are less than fifty (50) years of age;
“That all categories of employees of Kaduna State Government on Grade Levels one (1) to six (6) be converted to causal workers; and
“That all Local Governments in Kaduna State must limit their staff strength to fifty (50).
“That Acting on the 1st defendant’s directive, the Kaduna State Government, through the heads of the various MDAs, issued letters dated 31st March, 2021 terminating the employment of Kaduna State Government’s employees, or forcefully retiring those employees from their employments in the various MDAs on the ground that their services are no longer required.
“By the said letters, the terminations and compulsory retirement from service were to take effect on 1st April, 2021.Attached herewith and marked Exhibit A are copies of the letters of termination/retirement.
“That by the actions of the 1st defendant, the heads of the MDAs were directed to retire workers who were yet to attain the statutory retirement age of sixty (60) years or retirement after thirty-five (35) years of service in violation of the provisions of the Kaduna State Civil Service Rules as contained in the contracts of employments of the affected employees of Kaduna State Government.
“That the 1st defendant unlawfully terminated the employment of the affected employees without first informing the claimants to which Kaduna State Government’s employees subscribe, of the reasons for and the extent of the anticipated redundancy as required by law.
“That the 1st defendant also failed to pay end of service benefits and entitlements contemporaneously with the termination and compulsory retirement of Kaduna State Government’s employees, in breach of international best practices and municipal laws.
“That following the infractions against its members and the failure of the 1st Defendant to honour the series of request for a reversal of the anti- labour policies the National Executive Council of the 1st Claimant instructed the leadership of all its affiliate unions to commence a five days warning strike commencing from midnight, Sunday, May 16, 2021.
“However, officials the 1st Defendant was reported to have hired thugs to disrupt the protest and attacked the officials of the 1st Claimant in the course of leading street protest in furtherance of the said industrial action. Please find attached videos and news report confirming that assertion marked Exhibit C1, C2 and C3.
“That following the widespread condemnation that greeted the attack on the peaceful protest organized by the 1st claimant, the Federal Government of Nigeria intervened and, the industrial action was suspended after three days with a view to de-escalating the crisis and negotiating positions.
“That further to Paragraph 23 above, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the parties on Thursday May 20, 2021.
“That at the end of the Conciliation Meeting scheduled between the Kaduna State Government and the Leadership of the 1st Claimant, held at the Conference Room of the Minister of Labor, and Employment, it was resolved by parties thereto that all the listed issues fall within the ambit of redundancy therefore, the principle of redundancy as stated in Section 20 of the Labour Act, Cap L1 LFN should apply.
“That it was further resolved that a ten (10) man Bi-Partite Committee comprising six (6) representatives of State Government and three (3) officials of the 1st Claimant to engage further with the objective of reverting with a work plan on how to integrate the provisions of Section 20 of the Labour Act Cap L1 LFN 2004 to resolve the impasse between the State Government and the NLC (1st Claimant).
“That it was further resolved that the Committee should have a Chairman, the Head of Service of the Kaduna State Government and assisted by a Deputy National President of the NLC. The Committee is expected to revert with the work plan for peaceful resolution of all issues in contention to the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment by Tuesday 25th May, 2021.
“That in conclusion, it was agreed that there shall be no further industrial action on these issues and no worker shall be victimized on account of his or her participation in the industrial action.
“That the Memorandum of Understanding was signed on behalf of the 1st Defendant by the Head of Service of the Kaduna State Government, Bariatu Yusuf Mohammed and Jaafaru Ibrahim Sanni (Commissioner for Local Government) while the 1st Claimant was represented by the 2nd Claimant and its Deputy President, Comrade Najeem Usman Y and the Minister of Labour and Employment was represented by Muoneke Alay (Director Finance and Accounts. A Certified copy of the MOU is hereto attached and marked Exhibit D.
“That the 1st Defendant has failed, refused and neglected to comply with the terms of the said Memorandum of Understanding it willingly entered into with the 1st Claimant on Thursday, 20th May, 2021.
“That officials of Kaduna State Government, acting on the 1st defendant’s instructions issued query letters to Kaduna State Government’s employees threatening disciplinary action against them on account of their participation in the strike action”.
NLC President told the court that despite series of letters he wrote, appealing to the Kaduna state government to suspend the query and disciplinary actions targeted at employees that participated in the strike action, governor El-Rufai went ahead to constitute the probe panel.