Pharmaceutical Industry Disputes

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Unrelenting as the efforts of the labour court were within the 2020 timeline, it was also afforded the opportunity to deal decisively with what appears to be a disturbing trend in the pharmaceutical industry. This relates to a requirement that employees complete an exit clearance or ‘successful disengagement’ process, as condition precedent to the release of their original educational certificates; collected by the employer at the start of employment. These employment disputes involving three pharmaceutical companies, across two divisions of the NICN, returned with similar holdings of unfair labour practice. The fact patterns are strikingly similar to many which are known anecdotally throughout the world of work.

Pharmacists are engaged as medical/sales representatives, and at the point of engagement, asked to submit the originals of their university certificates. The companies keep them, and these employees only become entitled to their return, upon ‘successful clearance’ when their contract of employment is ended; either through resignation or termination. The three cases where the court was opportune to deal with this unscrupulous practice were: Mr. Adebayo v Superior Pharmaceutical Ltd (Unreported Suit No. NICN/AK/62/2018, judgement delivered on February 17, 2020; per Hon-Justice A.A Adewemimo); Pharm. Obateru Olufemi Abidemi v Fidson Healthcare Plc (Unreported Suit No. NICN/AK/06/2018, judgement delivered on February 17, 2020; per Hon-Justice A.A Adewemimo); and Seagreen Pharmaceuticals Ltd v Adaji Gabriel (Unreported Suit No. NICN/KD/16/2017, judgement delivered on December 1, 2020; per Hon-Justice S.O Adeniyi).

In all three cases, the NICN deprecated the practice of holding over these certificates, ordering their immediate release, whilst also awarding damages against the affected companies. The court had cause, in a separate case, to pronounce again on some variant of this practice; albeit in a different hue and industry. This involved the procurement of an employee’s certificate (as a qualified Mining Engineer) to enable an employer ‘hold the same out’, in compliance with a statutory precondition, needed to evince that it (employer) can carry out mining activities. The Claimant/Employee in Engr Tarfa Dzarma Garba v Ashaka Cement Plc & Anor (Unreported Suit No. NICN/BAU/13/2017, judgement delivered February 28, 2020; per Hon-Justice K.I Amadi) was so held out as a Supervising Mining Engineer, when in fact, he did not so act/work. Much less straightforward, with respect, is the ratio decidendi, to compensate this former employee, relying on Section 19(d) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006, with the sum of N2 million ‘for the period he was held out to be the supervising mining engineer during which period he did not so act’. On the facts as accepted, it appeared that the moral compass pointed unswervingly to not rewarding either of the two wrongdoers.

Compensatory Damages

The Court also provided additional guidance regarding minimal thresholds for claims (and/or defence) of compensatory damages ,attending upon workplace injuries and accident. In Daniel v Seven-Up Bottling Co. Ltd (Unreported Suit No. NICN/KD/13/2019, judgement delivered October 13, 2020; per Hon-Justice O.O Adeniyi), the Court dismissed a claim for compensation or damages, on the ground that the Claimant failed to ‘satisfactorily pinpoint any real or concrete injuries he suffered’. The Claimant in Bamidele v Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Limited/GTE (Unreported Suit No. NICN/AK/14/2018, judgement delivered January 16, 2020; per Hon-Justice A.A Adewemimo) had gone to rectify an electrical fault on a pole, when a high-tension wire fell on his head, causing him severe burns. Not only did the Defendants abandon the Claimant to his travails, but there was also a finding of breach of duty of care. The Claimant was awarded the sum of N20 million, as general damages.

In Chigozie Esther v Covenant University & 2 Ors (Unreported Suit No. NICN/IB/52/2017, judgement delivered March 03, 2020; per Hon-Justice J.D Peters) the claims against the Defendants were in ”Negligence for the failure of the defendants to keep the kitchen in safe condition to prevent it from being slippery …’. The Claimant made a case for negligence leading to a workplace injury suffered, but neither pleaded nor proved the particulars of negligence as required. The case, understandably, was dismissed.

In Ukpong v CGCOC Group of Companies Ltd. (Unreported Suit No. NICN/CA/24/2019, judgement delivered January 24, 2020; per Hon-Justice M.N Esowe) the Claimant’s left hand was severely damaged as a result of an industrial accident due to the Defendant’s negligence. The Court awarded the sum of N5 million as general damages, for the loss of amenities of life. In Ojeikhoa v Nicon Luxury Services Ltd & Anor. (Unreported Suit No. NICN/ABJ/446/2016, judgement delivered June 30, 2020; per Hon-Justice R.B Haastrup) the Court rightly invoked the provisions of Section 19(d) of the National Industrial Court Act 2006 in awarding the sum of N5 million as compensation. The Claimant lost his foot, in the course of employment with the 2nd Defendant.

In Adetayo v Nigeria Breweries Plc (Unreported Suit No. NICN/LA/617/2017, judgement delivered December 14, 2020; per Hon-Justice Elizabeth A. Oji, PhD) the claim was for compensation for the physical impairment allegedly suffered by the Claimant, while in the employment of the Defendant as a machine operator. The claim failed, as the Court held that the Claimant failed to place evidence establishing the exact nature of his job; predisposing him to the said physical impairment – Lumber Spondylosis R/O Back Strain.