Stories by Vivian Okejeme
The National Industrial Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, has ordered Western Publishing Company Limited, publishers of Compass Newspapers, to pay former employees all their entitlements, including pension, running into N7million within 30 days.
The suit no: NICN/LA/143/2014, has Victor Asowata, Azuka Christopher Nwokocha, Usoro Ndianobong, Moses Abel Hope, Ayodele Kolawole, Emmanuel Ukudolo and Sebastine Enyinna as plaintiff and Gbenga Daniel’s Western Publishing Company Limited, publishers of Compass Newspapers as defendant.
The defendants are seeking among others reliefs, an order compelling the newspaper owned by the former governor, to pay all their salary arrears, pension deducted but not remitted to the various pension administrators, cooperative contributions deducted at source from salaries but not remitted to the cooperative society and unpaid accumulated leave allowances.
Arguing his application, counsel to the defendants, Nkem Eke, said the development amounted to breach of their rights to decent living and to take care of their families, having labored even in terrible weather in the morning and nights for months, stressing that a worker deserves his wages.
Opposing the defence submission, counsel to Compass Newspapers, F. Ogundowo, argued that the plaintiffs were not entitled to the reliefs sought.
He premised his ground on the fact that, the management issued a general memo dated 19/4/2012, after a general meeting, stating that with effect from that day, editorial staff, including cartoonists would only be paid upon procurement of advert for the company.
Further in his argument, Ogundowo told the court that the memo superseded letters of appointment and that the complainants were not entitled to the reliefs since they failed to procure adverts for the newspapers as stipulated in the memo.
He added that some of the plaintiffs went away with laptops, cameras and motorcycles which were company properties, saying the plaintiffs were joined, the court lacked jurisdiction and urged that the court be dismissed.
Delivering his ruling, Justice Ayodele Obaseki Osaghai, noted that the fact that the plaintiffs were joined does not invalidate the suit and citing relevant sections of the constitution, and said the matter falls within the jurisdiction of the NICN.
The judge, also ruled that the defendant failed to prove that the properties obtained through higher purchase were not paid for.
She ruled that the letters of appointments superseded ordinary memo, stressing that the complainants proved their cases beyond reasonable doubts by tendering relevant documents like letters of appointments, letters of resignation, and statement of accounts from the various pension administrators.
She them ordered owners of the newspaper to pay all entitlements within 30 days, failure which 21 percent interest will accrue to the total judgement sum until it is liquidated.
She also awarded cost of N150, 000against the defendants and struck out the 5th complainant (Ayodele Kolawole) for failing to appear to prove his case during the trial.