Western Publishing Company Limited, publishers of Compass Newspapers, owned by the former Ogun State governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel has been ordered by the National Industrial Court sitting at Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria, to pay former employees all their entitlements, including pension, running into N7 million in the next 30 days.
The court presided over by Justice Ayodele Obaseki Osaghai while delivering judgment in the suit designated NICN/LA/143/2014, which was instituted by Victor Asowata, Azuka Christopher Nwokocha, Usoro Ndianobong, Moses Abel Hope, Ayodele Kolawole, Emmanuel Ukudolo and Sebastine Enyinna against Gbenga Daniel’s Western Publishing Company Limited, publishers of Compass Newspapers, noted that the fact that the plaintiffs were joined does not invalidate the suit, insisting that the action falls within the jurisdiction of the court. The judge held that the defendant failed to prove the allegation that the properties obtained by the former workers through higher purchase were not paid for.
The court further declared that the letters of appointments superceded ordinary memo, with an addition that the complainants proved their cases beyond reasonable doubts by tendering relevant documents like letters of appointments,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. Justice Obaseki consequently directed the media outfit to pay all entitlements within 30 days, failure which 21 percent interest will accrue to the total judgement sum until it is liquidated. The court equally awarded a cost to the tune of N150, 000 against the defendant.
Justice Obaseki equally struck out the 5th complainant (Ayodele Kolawole) for failing to appear to prove his case during the trial. It would be recalled that the former workers had through their counsel, Nkem Eke dragged the media outfit to the court, demanding several reliefs which included an order compelling the newspaper owned by the former governor to pay all their salary arreas, 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 Allowance.
The lawyer had insisted that the development amounted to breach of the rights of the former workers to decent living and to take care of their families having laboured even in terrible weather in the morning and nights for months, stressing that a worker deserve his wages. But counsel to the media organisation, F. Ogundowo had argued during hearing that the plaintiffs were not entitled to the reliefs sought on the ground that 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.
He argued that the memo superceded 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. The lawyer suggested that some of the plaintiffs went away with laptops, cameras and motorcycles which are company properties. Ogundowo said the fact that the plaintiffs were joined, makes the court to lack the jurisdiction to entertain same. He had also asked the court to dismiss the suit.