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Court Dismisses Union Bank’s suit against TUC …. Orders Bank To Pay ex-Union Homes’ Staff Entitlements

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The National Industrial Court (NICN), sitting in Lagos has dismissed a suit filed by Union Bank of Nigeria Limited asking the court to restrain the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria ( TUC) from the picketing any it’s offices nationwide.

Justice Salisu Hamisu Danjidda, made the orders while delivering judgment in a suit marked NICN/LA/166/2021 filed by Union Bank Plc against TUC and former staff of Union Homes and Savings.

In his judgment Justice Danjidda also dismissed Union Bank’ s counter-claim asking the court to declare that it is not under any obligation to pay the entitlements of former staff of one of its subsidiaries, Union Homes Savings And Loan Plc.

Union Bank has prayed the court for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants, agents, privies or any person acting on their instruction from embarking on or carrying out any picketing activities or any other labour activities against the Claimant or any of its business premises in the country.

But, after the trial that lasted for nearly one year, Justice Danjidda dismissed Union Bank suit on both flanks.

Justice Danjidda in his judgment delivered on June 20, 2022 held that “Picketing is the name given to the industrial action usually taken by workers of a trade union, known as pickets, who assemble in front of the company, or the home of the employer, and try to gather maximum support for a strike. Picketing can be considered lawful, as long as it was approved after a union balloting took place.

“It shall be lawful for one or more persons, acting on their behalf or on behalf of a trade union or registered Federation of Trade Unions of an individual employer or firm in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, to attend at or near a house or place where a person resides or works carries on business or happens to be, if they so attend merely for the purpose of peaceful obtaining or communicating information or of peaceful persuading any person to work or abstain from working.

“Accordingly, the doing of anything declared by subsection (1) of this section to be lawful shall not constitute any offence under any law enforce in Nigeria or any part thereof, and in particular shall not constitute an offence under Section 366 of the Criminal Code or any corresponding enactment in force in any part of Nigeria.”

“Similarly too, I think Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended has also thrown its weight behind the provisions of Section 43 of the Trade Union Act. It provides thus; “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest.”

“It appears from the above that the right to peaceful picketing as recognized under section 43 of the Trade Union Act and which derived its basis from section 40 of the 1999 Constitution as amended seems to be lawful if it is done in a peaceful manner, and for the claimant to ask for the court’s intervention to stop the picketing, he has to justify that his rights have been stepped upon. See Motorcycle Transport Union of Nig. V Delta State Motorcyclist Association (2010) LPELR – 4503(CA).

“It can be observed from subsection 2 of section 43 above, that once the picketing activities are done in a lawful and peaceful manner, then that action shall not constitute any offence under any law enforce in Nigeria or any part thereof.

“It is trite that declaratory reliefs must be strictly pleaded and proved by credible evidence which has to be led and proffered by the claimant to the satisfaction and discretion of the court. In other words, in a declaration, the claimant must call evidence that will satisfy the Court to make the declaration sought.

“I need to underscore the point that even though section 40 of the 1999 has guaranteed the right of every person to assemble and associate freely with others and to form or belong to a political party, trade union or other association for the protection of his interest but it admits of some exceptions. In other words, it is not an absolute right.

“However I have not been able to see any evidence proffered by the Claimant that the 1st Defendant’s right to peaceful picketing should be curtailed. The fact that the Claimant is a registered entity licensed to carry on banking business in Nigeria does not mean that the 1st defendant cannot carry out picketing activities against her more especially that the 1st defendant relied on the undertaking made by the claimant under clause 9.2.4 of Exhibit UBN1 that the Claimant shall create a credit line for the 2nd defendant which shall be applied solely for the purpose of the 2nd defendant’s staff liabilities which shall be subsequently written off.

“Based on the foregoing, I think the 1st defendant is entitled to press home their demand for the payment of the entitlements of their members. I believe there is nothing wrong with them planning to embark on industrial action against the claimant or any person as long their action is within the orbit of law.

Accordingly, I hold the view that the Claimant’s case is not one deserving the grant of declaratory relief and perpetual injunction against the Defendants. The case fails and it is accordingly dismissed.

On the counterclaim, th court held ” In law, once parties of their own free will and volition enter into a written agreement, they should be in law bound to honour and be bound by the terms of their agreement and therefore their relationship and subsequent disagreements must be resolved in accordance with their agreement and the court cannot go outside the terms as agreed upon by the parties.

“It is instructive to add that the terms of contract between the parties are clothed with some degree of sanctity and if any question should arise with regard to the contract, the terms in any document which constitute the contract are arguably the guide to its interpretation. It is not within the purview of the court to rewrite a contract for the parties.

“It is my view that the attempt made by the Claimant (Union Bank) to set off her obligation under the clear and unambiguous provisions of Exhibit UBN1 with the indebtedness of the 2nd defendant to her is a clear breach of the provisions of Exhibit UBN1. I think it does not look neat for the claimant to set off the funds meant for the ex staff of the 2nd defendant just because the 2nd defendant was indebted to her.

“I think the claimant only wanted to play smart by going to the Federal High Court to recognize the setoff. The point I want to make is that if the claimant would be allowed to set off the funds meant for the ex staff of the 2nd defendant against the indebtedness of the 2nd defendant, then it means the whole of Exhibit UBN1 can be made rubbish.

” I think the claimant should not be allowed to eat her cake and have it. She cannot approbate and rebrobate or blow hot and cold from the same breath by undertaking to provide funds for the benefit of the members of the counterclaimant and take way the funds with another hand. I think the law should not allow that. It really sounds unconscionable for the claimant to play smart to circumvent its obligation under the TIA and attach a condition to the grant it undertook to provide for the benefits of the 2nd defendant’s ex staff.

“In the world of labour, the payment of salaries or wages and entitlements is the right of an employee who has earned it. It is therefore the right of the employees to be paid their benefits for the work done and such right cannot just be taken away for no just cause.

“On the whole, and for all the reasons given above, the claimant’s case fails, it lacks merit and is accordingly dismissed”

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