The Presiding Judge, Portharcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Faustina Kola-Olalere has declared that Comrade Grant Nwowhor, Comrade Obulor Chilekwe and 18 others are entitled to a total sum of N114,129,990.31 as redundancy benefits as at October 2011 under the Agreement signed by Representatives of the Federal Ministry of Labour & Productivity, Port Harcourt, Management of Snig Nigeria Limited and the Representative of the Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN).
The Court awarded the sum of N20m in favour of Comrade Grant Nwowhor, Comrade Obulor Chilekwe and 18 others as general damages for the discomfort caused by the company's refusal to pay their Redundancy Benefits since September 2008.
Justice Kola-Olalere ordered Snig Nigeria Limited to pay the judgment sum to Comrade Grant Nwowhor, Comrade Obulor Chilekwe and 18 others together with the sum of N5,000,000.00 cost of action within 30 days.
From facts, the claimants- Comrade Grant Nwowhor and 39 others had averred that Snig Nigeria Limited failed, reneged and neglected to honour the mutual agreement it had with the Port Harcourt office of Steel and Engineering Workers of Nigeria (SEWUN), the Umbrella Union of the claimants at a tripartite meeting on the survival of the defendant and the Claimants’ terminal benefits, despite several approaches by different relevant Government Agencies, Ministries, Bodies, and Personal interventions; to ensure compliance with the agreement reached.
In defense, the Defendant- Snig Nigeria Limited stated that its Board of Directors at no time approved nor did it entered into any agreement with the workers at the material time, that the conditions of service agreement dated November 1999 is extinct, and so, it is not binding in law.
It continued that Comrade Grant Nwowhor and 39 others cannot legally file a joint action in an action founded on an alleged breach of contract of employment because they were employed individually. Also that the suit is vexatious and discloses no reasonable cause of action, thus, it ought to be dismissed.
Despite serving of hearing notices, the defendant never showed up in Court for the re-opening of the claimants’ case for cross-examination of the claimant’s witnesses and also failed to lead oral evidence in support of its pleadings, neither did it file a written address before the Court. Hence, counsel was foreclosed for the second time from cross-examining the claimants’ witnesses.
Counsel to Comrade Grant Nwowhor and 39 others submitted that the legal consequences of the defendant abandoning its Statement of Defence by its failure to call evidence in proof thereof is that, all the facts averred are deemed to have been accepted and admitted as true, and sought for the sum of N373,718,800.79 (Three Hundred and Seventy-Three Million, Seven Hundred and Eighteen Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira Seventy-Nine Kobo), representing arrears of salaries, leave allowances, Christmas bonuses, long service award, salaries and terminal benefits among others.
Delivering judgment, the presiding Judge, Justice Faustina Kola-Olalere held that refusal by a party to lead evidence in support of an averment in part or its entire pleadings translates to voluntary abandonment of such averments or the entire pleadings as the case may be.
The Court ruled that there is no evidence before the Court by Comrade Grant Nwowhor and 39 others to the effect that the defendant owed them arrears of salaries, leave allowances, Christmas bonuses and long-service awards and the Court does not know how they arrived at the various sums recorded.
However, on the Comrade Grant Nwowhor and 39 others’ claim for redundancy benefits under the Agreement of September 23, 2008, signed by Representatives of the Federal Ministry of Labour & Productivity, Port Harcourt, Management of the defendant and the Representative of the Labour Union of the claimants, Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN), the court held that only Comrade Grant Nwowhor and 19 others who are members of the Workers’ Union, SEWUM are qualified to benefit under the Agreement of September 23, 2008.
Justice Kola-Olalere stated that Comrade Grant Nwowhor and 19 others have proved before the Court that they were members of SEWUN as various sums of money were deducted from their salaries monthly as Union Dues.
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