President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NIC), Justice Benedict Bakwaph Kanyip, and his counterpart from Trinidad and Tobago, Mrs Deborah Thomas-Felix, have disclosed the move to establish a Conference of Labour Court Judges for the region and the continent to deepen cooperation in labour jurisprudence.
They made this known at the lecture to commemorate the 2022/2023 Legal Year of the NIC. Thomas-Felix, in her paper, “The Role of Industrial Courts and International Labour Standards in Promoting Good Governance to Support Economic and Social Development,” stressed that given current health challenges occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic, industrial courts have assumed greater importance.
While emphasising the need for labour justice, she also disclosed that employment protection could encourage workers to take more risks and better innovations.
She said: “A growing body of research has indicated that compliance with International Labour Standards is often accompanied by improvements in productivity and economic performance.
“Minimum wage and worktime standards and respect for equality can translate into greater satisfaction, improved performance of workers and reduced staff turnover.”
Earlier, in his welcome address, Justice Kanyip said Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago have since 2002 been in a relationship in the area of jurisprudence.
“NIC Act 2006 was being promulgated, the provision of section 7(6) of the NIC Act was borrowed from section 10 of the Industrial Relations Act Chap. 88:01 Laws of Trinidad and Tobago. Section 7(6) of the NIC Act permits the NIC to apply international best practices in labour when adjudicating, but what is international best practice is a question of fact,” he said.
Justice Kanyip said, “when section 7(6) of the NIC Act 2006 permits the NICN to apply international best practice, as reinforced and extended by section 254C( 1)(f) and (h) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, this must not be seen as a devise for the Court to be at large.
“Our membership of ILO and the global community makes it necessary. And we are not alone in it as the example of Trinidad and Tobago shows.”
Justice Kanyip decried the current practice where employers do not seek to protect them as employees, but sees the fellow as self-employed, subcontractor or as part-time worker.
“Employers, in the quest to have a flexible labour market, have devised new forms of work so that the protection of labour law is avoided,” he lamented.
At the Bar and Bench forum, speakers urged participants to use the privilege for a better understanding of the judges’ psyche for improvement.
The forum was held in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association-Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL). The NBA-SBL’s Committee on Employment, Labour and Industrial Relations Committee (EIRC) anchored the inaugural Bar-Bench Forum of employment and labour law practitioners.
The forum, which presented legal practitioners with opportunity to interact with Judges of NIC, discussed issues connected to the decisions and activities of the court.
Questions bordering on Practice Directions of the NIC proceeding, 2022 came up, specifically, where it concerns striking out matters when documents are not properly marked.
Earlier, the president of Industrial Court, Trinidad and Tobago, advised that it was necessary for the court to engage the bar and other judicial stakeholders to be at par with current trends.
She added that NIC could emulate the practice in her court where law lecturers and ILO representatives are mandated to conduct research on how to improve labour laws.
The chairman, NBA-SBL, Dr. Adeoye Adefulu, who joined the forum virtually, on his part, said the focus of his association was to impact and influence, and thereby, through the forum, people will be educated on how NIC works and reasons behind some of its decisions.
Adefulu said they lend their voices to give environmental background to give context to decisions of NIC judges. The chair of SBL-EIRC, Mr Ose Okpeku, reiterated that it was worrisome as some human resource personnel and legal practitioners were still stuck in applying labour common law.
He said these practitioners have the mentality of master- servant relationship between them, in other words, an employer and employee, who could be hire and fired at will.
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