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Nigeria’s industrial court in a ruling orders university lecturers to go back to work

The National Industrial Court (NIC) on Wednesday ordered the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to call off their 7-month-old strike action and go back to work.

The Federal Government in a suit prayed for the order of the court for ASUU to call off its seven months strike.

The judge, Polycarp Hamman in his ruling on the application on Wednesday, granted the federal government’s request.

He held that the strike is detrimental to public university students who cannot afford to attend private tertiary institutions.

He said the TDA mandates workers not to embark on strike once an issue has been referred to the industrial court.

“The balance of convenience tilts in favour of the applicant,” he held. “I hold that this application is meritorious and this application is granted.”

The court, therefore, restrained “ASUU, whether by themselves, members, agents, privies or howsoever called, from taking further steps and doing any act in continuance of the strike action pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed.”

The judge also refused to fine the federal government as demanded by ASUU.

The Minister of Labour and Employment on behalf of the Federal Government had filed the matter before the court by way of referral to resolve the issue of the ongoing strike by ASUU.

The counsel to FG, J.U.K Igwe in his submission had informed the court that the application for the injunction was dated Sept. 12 and filed on the same date.

He added that the application was brought in pursuant to the rules of the NICN 2017 proceeding.

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Igwe further stated that it was predicated on 11 grounds, supported by 21 paragraph affidavit deposed to by Okechukwu Wampa, a Legal Adviser in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, attached with three exhibits and an undertaking as to damages deposed to by Wampa.

He also urged the court to grant the prayer sought and proceeded to adopt in its entirety and totality the written address, adding that the claimants had met all the requirements to enable the court grant the injunction

He cited that claimant’s action was not apprehensive and regarding damages, he said the lost time of seven months of the strike could not be regained.

He concluded by saying that going by the provision of section 18 (1) (e) of the Trade Disputes Act 2004, that a worker should not embark on strike when a matter is already before the court, urged the court to grant the injunction.

However, counsel to the defendant, Femi Falana stated that he had before the court a nine-paragraph counter-affidavit filed on Sept. 16 deposed to by the president of ASUU.

He further submitted that attached to the affidavit were eight exhibits accompanied by a written address and proceeded to adopt the same as their argument in opposition to the interlocutory injunction.

Falana in addition argued that the minister lacked the power to order the court in the referral to direct ASUU to call off its strike.

He averred further that once a referral was before a court, no party could go outside of it.

Falana in his argument also pointed out that the claimants did not follow due process in part 1 of TDA 2004 which stipulated that only an individual has the right to approach the court as a trade union will first need to go to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP), before coming to the court.

He said the union can only approach the NICN to appeal the decision of IAP

Falana also said that the letter that accompanied the referral had the name of the Attorney-General as a party in the suit, but that, however, the application filed before the court was without the name.

He also said that the referral asking for an accelerated hearing was not necessary as there was no urgency in the matter as the strike had lasted for seven months

He also submitted that the balance of convenience was not on the side of the claimants and that the conduct of the claimants in the prayer for the court to interpret the 2009 Agreement should be discountenanced. He finally urged the court to dismiss the application or direct parties to the IAP.

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