Industrial Court Faults Oil Firm On Wrongful Employment Termination, Awards Damages

Hon. Justice Zaynab Bashir of the Portharcourt Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court has declared the termination of Mr. Bassey’s employment from the service of Hilong Oil Service & Engineering as Chief Mechanic on the 26th of May 2022 as wrongful and in breach of his right to fair hearing.

The Court held that though the requirement of fair hearing is not stated in Bassey’s contract of employment, but same is a sacrosanct provision of the grund norm of this country as enshrined in section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

The Court ordered Hilong Oil Service & Engineering to pay Mr. Bassey the sum of N200,000.00 (Two hundred Thousand Naira only) being general damages for the breach of his right to fair hearing in the termination of his employment, and the sum of N250, 000.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira Only) as cost of action.

From facts, the claimant Mr. Bassey’s had submitted that he was employed by Hilong Oil Service & Engineering as the Chief Mechanic effective on 2nd May, 2022 and upon his resumption of duty, he was not introduced nor inducted and was not given the necessary tools and equipment, such as safety wears to perform his duties.

He averred that on the 26th of May 2022, he received a message from the Human Resource Manager that there was a report from the rig criticizing him and his work and no such report was made available to him and neither was he given fair hearing before his employment was terminated.

In defense, the Defendant- Hilong Oil Service & Engineering contended that Mr. Bassey was supplied with adequate safety wears for his own safety at the Rig site adding that the defendant’s Health, Safety and Environment (H.S.E) officer will not permit any person to be on the Rig site without safety wears.

The company averred that termination of Bassey’s contract with the defendant was lawful as it was in line with the terms of the contract of employment with the defendant. Counsel also contended that the declaration that Bassey’s employment is subsisting is not sustainable in law.

Delivering judgment after careful evaluation of the submission of both parties, the presiding Judge, Justice Zaynab held that an employer reserves the right to terminate an employment, however the fundamental principles of law such as right to fair hearing cannot be sacrificed at the altar of such discretionary power.

Justice Zaynab held that, even though Mr. Bassey is under probation, the termination of his employment would still be governed by provisions of the contract of employment which deals with termination.

The Court ruled that Hilong Oil Service & Engineering did not plead any query issued to Mr. Bassey nor any form of pre-inquiry before the issuance of letter of termination.

Justice Zaynab afirmed held that Hilong Oil Service & Engineering rightly reserves the right to terminate the employment of Mr. Bassey even for reasons stated in the letter of termination, but the principle of fair hearing requires that Mr. Bassey be afforded an opportunity to be heard on the grounds for which his employment is intended to be automatically terminated.

However, on alleged discrimination, the Court held that Mr. Bassey was accorded all the support he needed from his employer and nothing has been placed before the court to established the purported discrimination claim.