Court orders Total Nigeria to pay disengaged former employees N50m damages

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The National Industrial Court in Lagos has ordered Total E & P Nig. (Formerly Elf Petroleum Nigeria Limited) to pay N50 million in aggravated damages to disengaged security staff of the business for inflicting psychological and emotional torment.

In her decision, Justice Elizabeth Oji characterised the first defendant’s (Total E & P Nig.) unwillingness to grant the claimants employment letters for the 15 years they worked for the company in compliance with the Labour Act.

The court granted Total E & P Nig. 30 days to comply with the decree, or face a 20% interest penalty.

The Claimants, Odah Ezckiel Ogah, Adefemi Eyitayo Moses, Ogwuche Abraham, Charles Okwori (For themselves and on behalf of the disengaged Security Employees of Total E & P Nigeria Limited) had accused the Oil company of unfair labour practice.

Joined as defendants alongside Total E& P Nigeria Limited are, Transworld Security System Limited, Bemil Nigeria Limited, Halogen Security Nigeria Limited, Lack Guards Security Limited, and Kings Guards Security Limited.

The claimants through their lawyer, Ali Adah had asked the court for a declaration that the unilateral transfer of the Claimants’ employment to five different companies ( 2nd to 6th defendants) at different times by the 1st defendant within a period of about 15 years without their consent and the endorsement/approval of such transfer by any authorised labour officer is illegal, unlawful and unfair labour practice and therefore a breach of section 10 of the Labour Act of Nigeria and international best practices with impunity.

The also asked for “a declaration that the refusal and neglect by the 1st defendant to issue letters of employment to the claimants despite repeated demands for same by the claimants without success is illegal, unlawful, unfair labour practice, a breach of international best practices and therefore, a violation of section 7 of the Labour Act and liable under section 21 of the same Act.

“A declaration that the conspiracy among the defendants to enslave, neglect or ill-treat the Claimants under a clandestine working condition for so many years for the 1st defendant without any terminal benefit entitlement paid to them is wicked, unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, wrongful, unfair labour practice and breach of international best practices and therefore an arrogant breach of section 46 (1) of Labour Act and liable under the same section,

“A declaration that the conspiracy between the 1st and 2nd defendants to recruit the claimants to work for the 1st defendant and for the sole advancement of the 1st defendant’s business interest benefit without the requisite employers permit and recruiter’s license, and from which the claimants have been subjected to ill-treatment, neglect and psychological torture is unconstitutional, fraudulent, unfair labour practice and therefore a willful violation of sections 24 and 25 of the Labour Act and under section 47 of the same Act”.

However, the 1st defendant in its defence alleged that it was not the employer of the claimants but the 2nd to 6th defendants.

The 2nd to 6th defendants denied being the employers of the claimants.

In her judgement, Justice Oji held that the continuous refusal by the 1st defendant to pay the claimants their terminal benefits after summarily downsizing them since 2014 and 2015 from its employment after many years of meritorious service was illegal, unfair labour practice and international best practices and therefore unconstitutional, null and void.

The court also held that, Total failed to adduce any evidence to show that it has contract with any of 2nd to 6th defendants as to prove that they were the employers of the Claimants.

The court said that the failure of Oil firm to prove that averments showed that it remain the employer of the claimants.

Consequently, the court awarded N50,000,000.00 as aggravated damages against Total in favour of the claimants for inflicting such untoward psychological, mental torture on the claimants.