National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), Port Harcourt Division has upheld the sanctity of human labour, saying it is not a ‘simple contract.’ Delivering judgment in suit NICN/YEN/444/2016, between Fedison Manpower Supply Ltd v. Niger Blossom Drilling Nig. Ltd, Justice Nelson Ogbuanya, held that labour supply contract is not a simple contract.
The defendant’s counsel, C. Uriem, had raised the issue of jurisdictional objection in his final written address, to the effect that the NIC lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate on the dispute overpayment of the contract sum in a labor supply contract between the claimant and the defendant, which he said is a ‘simple contract’ and not covered by the provisions of Section 254C (1) of the 1999 Constitution and thus, outside the jurisdiction of the NIC, The Trumpet gathered.
The objection was, however, over-ruled by Justice Ogbuanya, while delivering judgment and held that the court has jurisdiction, as supply of human labor is not a simple contract, contrary to the submissions of the defendant’s counsel.
From facts, the claimant’s case is that it is a labour supply contractor engaged by the defendant company to supply and operate with its retained manpower, the defendant’s Rig (Niger Blossom) in its drilling area for Pan Ocean Oil Company.
The claimant argued that in fulfilling its obligation as specified in the Labour Supply Agreement they signed, it mobilised the human labour and operated the rig until the contract was terminated by Pan Ocean, adding that at the conclusion of the rig operation, there was left an outstanding debt of N72, 512,015, which was the sum agreed to by the parties after reconciliation of invoices sent in by the claimant.
It also stated that the defendant refused to pay, even after sending a demand letter through its solicitors, hence the suit. The defendant said it has paid because it has issued instructions to its Bankers, First Bank, and also issued some cheques in favour of the claimant, and therefore not owing the claimant as alleged. The claimant denied receiv- ing any such payment and put the defendant to the strictest proof.
In his final written address after the trial, the claimant’s counsel, Prince H.O Egielemai, pointed out that the defendant only tendered the copies of the cheques and transfer instructions, but did not lead evidence on how the payment instructions were carried out and that the claimant received payment for the sum owed.
The defendant’s counsel submitted that the defendant does not owe the claimant, having paid all outstanding and also raised an objection that industrial court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate on dispute over such contract, which he said is a simple contract, and falls outside the jurisdictional scope of the NIC.
Ruling on the jurisdiction of the court, Justice Ogbuanya said: “What the learned defendant’s counsel however, forgot in his tenacious posturing of jurisdictional challenge in this matter, is that this court has been imbued with jurisdiction over any matter arising from, related to or connected with employment, courtesy of the provisions of S.254 C(1) of 1999 Constitution (3rd Alteration ), effective March 4, 2011. “I dare say that this provi- sion has over time become a one stop-shop for gauging the amplification of the new jurisdictional mandate of this court in its one-subject matter adjudicatory-stock, which is- employment, workplace, labour- related, connected and/or arising matters!
It is actually from the backdrop of the phrasal concept of ‘arising from, related to, connected with labour/employment/ workplace’ used variously in the provisions of S.254C (1)-(5) of the extant Constitution that this court derives its amplified jurisdiction to entertain other core civil claims bordering on contract and tort, such as tenancy, libel, negligence, policy issues, fundamental human rights, and even criminal jurisdiction. I so hold” According to the judge, it was clear and the contract dealt with supply of human labour.