The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, has raised concern over the deplorable condition under which workers in Abia State currently operate, describing it as unfriendly.
The trade union said that not only had the Abia State government failed to implement the minimum wage, it had declined to pay workers as and when due.
Ayuba Wabba, the president of NLC President, raised the concern during a public lecture organised by the National Industrial Court of Nigerian as part of activities marking its 2022/2023 Legal Year which ended on Friday, October 7, 2022, with the theme, “Labour justice and socio-economic development.”
According to him, judges in Abia state were being owed over 18 months, schools closed and doctors owed over 12 months salaries.
Wabba recalled that on a particular day, he ran into a Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, who told him about the sorry state of affairs in Abia State Judiciary.
He said the judge told him that because judges in Abia state have not been paid for about 18 months, she had to send stipends to support some of them.
Wanna said, “In that state too, doctors have not been paid for more than 12 months. That is the reality, and schools are closed. And she (the Judge) demanded to know what the labour movement in the State and the NLC were doing on the Abia case.
“I quickly checked and found out that the NLC Chairman in the state has retired from service. But, because he is doing the bidding of the government, he approached the government in writing to give him an extension.”
Wabba added that when they heard of the development, the NLC National Executive Council objected to the Abia State Chairman’s request on the grounds that he has retired and that the position of the law is that a retired person cannot continue to lead workers.
The NLC president said rather than allow reason prevail, the Abia NLC Chairman went to court and obtained a perpetual injunction retaining him in office.
He argued that in such a case, the court has failed in its responsibility to always dispense justice.
Wabba said that the economy of nations flourish where labour rights were protected.
He urged the court to always dispense justice without fear or favour to ensure a harmonious relationship in the workplace.
“There is a relationship between a good industrial system and productivity and the ability to attract foreign investment. No investor will come to a country where there is uncertainty, where there is no opportunity for you to seek redress for any wrong,” Wabba said.
The President of the NICN, Justice Benedict Kanyip and his counterpart from Trinidad and Tobago, Justice Deborah Thomas-Felix said moves were on to establish a Conference of Labour Court Judges for the region and the continent to deepen cooperation in the area of labour jurisprudence.
Delivering her keynote address titled: “The role of industrial courts and international labour standards in promoting good governance to support economic and social development,” Justice Thomas-Felix stressed the importance of industrial courts in the maintenance of harmonious relationship in workplace.
While emphasising the need for labour justice, she said that employment protection could encourage workers to take more risks and better innovations.
She said, “A growing body of research has indicated that compliance with international labour standards is often accompanied by improvements in productivity and economic performance.
“Minimum wage and worktime standards and respect for equality can translate into greater satisfaction, improved performance of workers and reduced staff turnover.”
Justice Kanyip said Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago have since 2002 been in a relationship in the area of jurisprudence.
He said, “The National Industrial Court Act 2006 was being promulgated, the provision of section 7(6) of the NIC Act was borrowed from section 10 of the Industrial Relations Act Chap. 88:01 Laws of Trinidad and Tobago. Section 7(6) of the NIC Act permits the NIC to apply international best practices in labour when adjudicating, but what is international best practice is a question of fact.
“When section 7(6) of the NIC Act 2006 permits the NICN to apply international best practice, as reinforced and extended by section 254C( 1)(f) and (h) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, this must not be seen as a devise for the Court to be at large.
“Our membership of ILO and the global community makes it necessary. And we are not alone in it as the example of Trinidad and Tobago shows.”
Justice Kanyip decried the current practice where employers do not seek to protect them as employees, but instead see them as self-employed, sub-contractors or as part-time workers.
“Employers, in their quest to have a flexible labour market, have devised new forms of work just so that the protection of labour law is avoided,” he said.