The Lagos Division of the National Industrial Court on Friday ordered Western Publishing Company Limited to pay its former employees all their entitlements, including pensions, running into N7 million.
Justice Ayodele Osaghai while delivering judgment in suit No. NICN/LA/143/2014 ordered that the payments be made within the next 30 days.
The plaintiffs, Victor Asowata, Azuka Christopher Nwokocha, Usoro Ndianobong, Moses Abel Hope, Ayodele Kolawole, Emmanuel Ukudolo and Sebastine Enyinna had instituted the suit the against Western Publishing Company Limited, the publishers of Compass Newspapers, owned by former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel.
The complainants had through their lawyer, Nkem Eke, sued the newspaper, seeking several reliefs including an order compelling the newspaper 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.
They argued that the development amounted to a breach of their rights to decent living and to take care of their families having laboured days and nights for months for the company.
F. Ogundowo, counsel to Compass Newspapers, had argued during the hearing that the plaintiffs were not entitled to the reliefs sought on the ground that management issued a general memo on April 19, 2012, after a general meeting stating that with immediate effect, editorial staff including cartoonists would only be paid upon procurement of advert for the company.
Mr. Ogundowo said the memo superseded letters of appointment and that the complainants are not entitled to the reliefs since they failed to procure adverts for the newspapers as stipulated in the memo.
Mr. Ogundowo further argued that some of the plaintiffs joined in the suit went away with laptops, cameras, and motorcycles which are company properties, adding that the court lacked jurisdiction and, therefore, should dismiss the suit.
Ruling on the matter, the judge noted that the fact the plaintiffs, who allegedly took company properties, were joined in the suit does not invalidate it and, citing relevant sections of the Constitution, she said that the matter falls within the jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court.
On the allegations that some of the plaintiffs bolted away with company properties, the judge ruled that the defendant failed to prove that the properties obtained through hire purchase were not paid for.
She further ruled that the letters of appointments superceed company memos, 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 then ordered the owners of the newspaper to pay all entitlements within 30 days, failure of which 21 per cent interest will accrue to the total judgement sum until it is liquidated.
The judge also awarded cost of N150,000 against the defendant and struck out the fifth Claimant, Kolawole, for failing to appear before the court during the trial.
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