There is no better time than now to change the face of the Nigerian labour law jurisdiction, especially with the realities of Nigeria’s economy which has affected the revenues o§f organisations – who now deem it ‘fit’ to manage its scarce resources by first cutting down staff strength, reduce salaries or declare a state of redundancy.
Labour force appears to be the first hit when there is a slight decline in the revenue generated by organisations and sometimes the last to rejuvenate when companies pick up in its economic activities. This reality, though sad has become the order of the day.
It therefore behooves on the National Industrial Court, law firms, regulators, policy makers, employees and employers, amongst others to deliberate on these issues in a bid to ensure a level playing ground for all.
It is in the light of these realities that Perchstone & Graeys last week put together an employee law seminar where most of the players in the sector discussed ‘The Changing Face of Nigerian Labour Law Jurisprudence vis-à-vis, the realities of a developing economy.’
“We see that there is increasing agitations from the decisions emanating from the National Industrial Court and not only from the part of the private sector but also on the conflicting decisions of the National Industrial Court itself and we thought it was best for the court to come and clarify some of the issues,” Tolulope Aderemi, partner, Perchstone & Graeys said at the event.
According to Aderemi, “What we do as a firm is we organise annual conferences yearly and we look at issues that are contemporary as it relates to different sectors. For us, rather than look at oil and gas or look at electricity, which we have done in the past, we could see increasing litigations, employee-employer related litigation, which cuts across all sectors. We thought this will bring together many industry players, including the court itself.”
He disclosed that tremendous achievements have been recorded from past event, some of which include influencing government policies, shaping the way organisations are run and assisting companies to understand the mind of government in terms of making business decisions.
He explained that the government and the private sectors have to work in the same director to bring about policies that will really move the country forward, adding that P&G have seen a lot of improvement in government policies, which have become more business oriented.
While explaining the initiative behind the seminar, Aderemi noted that the topic of the seminar is unique because it cuts across all the sectors. “On the average, twice a week we are at the National Industrial Court to represent an employer or an employee. Our annual conferences will still remain but intermittently, we are going to be selecting contemporary issues and bringing the key stakeholders together,” he assured.
Speaking earlier at the event, Hon Justice Benedict Kanyip, the lead speaker and Judge of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria said Nigeria cannot talk of the changing face of Nigerian labour law jurisprudence and what employers need to know without a word or two on the state of the world of work.
Kanyip explained that the NIC under section 7(6) of the NIC Act 2006 and section 254C(1)(f) and (h), and (2) of the 1999 Constitution is empowered to apply international best practice in labour, and conventions, treaties, recommendations and protocols ratified by Nigeria.
“The spirit and letter of these provisions as well as the intendment of same (and this is the very first thing that employers must note), is that they operate to create and set a standard as a benchmark against which labour and industrial relations in Nigeria are to be measured.
“We have accordingly held it to be an unfair labour practice the following: for an employer to compel an employee to bank with a specified bank chosen by the employer (Mr. Olabode Ogunyale & ors v. Globacom Nigeria Ltd unreported Suit No. NIC/LA30/2008 the judgment of which was delivered on 13th December 2012); for an employer to dictate to an employee where to invest his/her computed gratuity benefit (Aghata N. Onuorah v. Access Bank Plc  55 NLLR (Pt. 186) 17); an employer holding the certificates of an employee as security for the employment of the employee on terms that it will not be released until the employer no longer desires the services of the em-ployee; a vindictive suspension and/or vindictive denial of promotion (Mrs. Abdulrahaman Yetunde Mariam v. University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital Management Board & anor  35 NLLR (Pt. 103) 40 NIC); etc,” he said.
The judge is of the view that employers must pay greater attention to international conventions and global standards as it relates to employee relations. For instance, irrespective of the employer’s right to hire and fire for any or no reason, the NIC currently recognizes that globally it is no longer fashionable in industrial relations law and practice to terminate an employment relationship without adducing any valid reason for such a termination.
“Within the banking sector, the NIC now recognizes that termination of an employee’s employment with immediate effect suggests some wrongdoing on the part of the employee, which the employer must justify if the employer is not to be saddled with more than one month’s pay in lieu of notice,” Kanyip said.
He recalled that the Economic Recovery & Growth Plan 2017-2020 as released by the Ministry of Budget & National Planning, February 2017 at paragraph 5.4 at page 92 had this to say:
Unemployment has risen from 6.4 per cent in 2014, to 10.4 per cent in 2015, to reach 13.9 per cent in 2016(Q3). The youth (45 per cent of the population is aged below 15) account for the majority of the unemployed and underemployed in Nigeria (an estimated 17.6 mil-lion; 49.7 per cent in Q32016), and this problem will only get bigger as the population continues to grow. All initiatives under job creation will prioritize youth as beneficiaries.
Kanyip therefore suggested that the stakeholders must be patient with the NIC, even in the face of seemingly conflicting decisions of the Court, adding that a roundtable such as the instant is meant to open discussions on such contending issues, which will in the end assist the ends of labour justice.
Osaro Eghobamien, SAN, Managing Partner, Perchstone & Graeys told BusinessDay that there should to be more platforms for the employers, employees and policy makers to identify gaps and fill the gaps where there are obvious misunderstandings between the party.
“It is a very important part of our societal structure in the way employers treat employees. I don’t think there is efficient interaction between the stakeholders that will give rise to the policies that are necessary to fashion out something that will be beneficial to everyone.”
Eghobamien noted that Nigeria has to understand that in as much as it wants to attain global standards, there has to be imbibed in that, our culture and that culture means that there must be certain part of the country’s very existence that will be introduced into the labour law. “It is important when we are talking about international best practice to recognise that it must have some local content.
“I think that sometimes the right of the employee as stipulated in our laws, is one which doesn’t give regard to the complexities inherent in doing business in Nigeria.
“We need to look into this very carefully. Social security is provided either by family or by the employer himself. There are structural inhibitions, so it is not just easy to say we must comply with the global best practice. We have to work towards it, but we have to bear in mind that there are some very peculiar problems inherent in our society,” he explained.