The National Industrial Court has ordered a firm, Gojeho Consultancy & Manpower Dev. Ltd to pay its former staff, Mr Eyitayo Bello, N1.1million for ”forced labour”.
Part of the money that formed the sum total as ordered by the court, was also for wrongful termination of the claimant’s employment, salary earned for May 2017 and costs of the suit.
Delivering judgment, Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae held that N28,387 was for the claimant’s earned salary for the month of May 2017.
The judge in addition ordered the payment of N360,000, being the equivalent of the claimant’s nine months salary in damages for Forced Labour.
She also said the sum of N480,000, was for damages for wrongful termination of the claimant’s employment, being the equivalent of 12 months salary and N300,000 as costs of suit.
The court ordered that all sums awarded were to be paid within 14 days and thereafter the sums shall attract interest at the rate of 10 percent per annum until liquidated.
The court on the other hand declined the defendant’s counter-claim of
N6 million as general damages for breach of the employment contract by the claimant and N300,000 as costs of litigation.
The court stated that the evidence of defence witness was that this sum was paid as legal fees.
The court however said that the bill of charges was not tendered in evidence.
From facts, the claimant submitted that he was a former employee of the defendant.
Bello added that he was employed as an Accountant on March 7, 2017 on a monthly salary of N40,000 with effect from March 13, 2017.
The claimant stated that he subsequently resigned his appointment on April 13, 2017.
The claimant averred that the defendant rejected his resignation and demanded that he must comply with the clause in the employment letter that required him to give two months notification.
He stated that as a result he was compelled to resume back to his post in order to serve the mandatory two months notice from May 1, 2017 to June 30, 2017.
The claimant averred that on May 22, 2017 however, the defendant terminated his employment with immediate effect and a pay slip of N23,225.81 covering the period of May 1 to May 20,2017 was attached to the letter.
The defendant, through its counsel, Enokela Obeh submitted that the claimant’s employment was provisional and may be confirmed upon satisfactory job performance after six months probationary period as stipulated in the letter of employment.
The defence in addition denied that the claimant worked consistently.
The defendant further stated that the claimant was insubordinate to the Management and was absent from his duty post stalling the accounting operations for three working days March 22 to 24, 2017 with no excuse or authorised permission to be absent from work.
The firm also averred that due to the absence of the claimant for these days, the management was unable to determine its profit or loss for the said week.
The defendant further stated that it rejected the claimant’s resignation without notice, as it breached his terms of employment.
The defendant stated that despite its rejection of the resignation, the claimant in anger absconded from duty for 16 days, from April 14,2017 to April 30,2017.
Gojeho submitted that the claimant resumed work on May 1, 2017, and was absent on May 15, 19 and 20.
The defendant further stated that the claimant came late to work, arriving at the office at about 10.00am on May 7, March 11 and March 13, contrary to the terms of his employment which provides that he must resume work at 7:30am on weekdays and 9:30am on Saturdays.
The defendant averred that the claimant’s employment was terminated on May 22, 2017 while he was still on probation; and that N23,225 was proposed as his pay for the days he worked in May 2017 will be paid on condition that the claimant did a proper handover of all its property in his custody.
The defendant stated that the claimant still had in his custody its Android Techno Mobile phone worth N31,000.00 which the claimant said he will return if he received his salary for May and June 2017.
The defendant stated that the claimant’s employment was rightfully terminated on the May 22,2017 during his probationary period, and that he was not entitled to a salary for May and June 2017 amounting to N80,000.
The defendant averred that it had expended the sum of N300,000 to defend the suit.
The court after perusal of the submissions of both parties stated it was trite that when an employee complained that the terms of his employment contract was breached.
That the employee had the burden not only to place before the court the terms and conditions of the employment, but the manner in which it was breached by the employer.
The court in addition averred that the claimant had placed before the court his letter of employment, resignation letter, termination letter.
The court held that law is settled that parties are bound by the terms and conditions of the contract of employment in writing freely entered into,
The judge said “the claimant tendered his letter of resignation after one month to take effect from that day.
“The defendant rejected the claimant’s resignation on the ground that he breached the terms of employment for failing to give two months notice.
“There was no mode for termination of the employment by either party during the probationary period in the contract of employment.
“The position of the law is that a notice of resignation becomes effective and valid the moment it is received by the person or authority it is addressed to.
“This is because the employee has absolute power to resign and the employer has no discretion to refuse to accept. And it is not necessary for the person to whom the notice of resignation is addressed to reply that the resignation has been accepted
“The defendant is not permitted to refuse to accept the claimant’s resignation for whatever reason.
“The claimant stopped coming to work after his resignation as he was no longer an employee of the defendant.
“It is therefore not correct that the claimant absconded from duty.
“The claimant’s complaint and unchallenged evidence is that the defendant ‘compelled’ him to come back to work out the notice period.
“The Black’s Law Dictionary Eight Edition defines the word compel at page 300 as “to cause or bring about by force, threats, or overwhelming pressure.”
“Upon the defendant’s refusal to accept the claimant’s resignation, and being compelled to work out the two months notice period, the claimant reported to the defendant’s office on April 28,2017 and wrote a letter dated April 29,2017.
“Giving two months notice of resignation to begin May 1, 2017 and end 30th June 2017.
” I find that compelling the claimant to resume for the purpose of working out the two months notice period after his resignation amounts to Forced Labour.
“This is a violation of Section 34 (1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, and it is unconstitutional.
” Section 73 (1) of the Labour Act CAP L1 LFN 2004 expressly mentions this constitutional provision and makes Forced Labour a criminal offence punishable with a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both.
“The ILO Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, 1930 (No 29) ratified by Nigeria prohibits Forced Labour.
“The defendant could have made a demand for payment in lieu of notice provided in the exit provision but chose not to.
“The defendant’s action in compelling/forcing the claimant to work out the notice period is illegal; and I so hold.
“Having found that the defendant has breached the claimant’s fundamental right provided in Section 34 (1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“It will not serve the purpose of justice for the Court to leave the wrong done to the claimant without a remedy in this suit; the claimant having made a complaint to the Court both in his pleadings and evidence about being compelled to resume to work out the notice period.
“The latin maxim ‘ubi jus ibi remedium’ which means ‘for every wrong the law provides a remedy’ is applicable in this instance.
“The claimant gave unchallenged evidence that having been compelled to resume, he had to abandon all other things to work out the notice period.
“The claimant is entitled to an award of damages for Forced Labour applying the provisions of section 19 (d) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006”, the court held.