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PENGASSAN loses as Court upholds Labour Minister’s discretion to call for arbitration

Honourable Justice Simisola Adeniyi of the National Industrial Court, Abuja has struck out the suit of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) against Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (MPN) in an action to quash the Honourable Minister for Labour and Employment’s referral of an industrial dispute between the parties to the Industrial Arbitration Panel.

The matter came up on Monday, 2 July for Judgment on the Originating Motion filed by PENGASSAN, challenging instrument of referral of the dispute which emanated in 2016 between PENGASSAN and MPN, to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP). Counsel to MPN, Professor Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, in response to the suit of PENGASSAN filed by Mr. Rudy Ezeani, Esq seeking a judicial review of the instrument of referral of the Minister had argued that the process of judicial review by way of an order of certiorari or prohibition enables a superior court review the record of an inferior judicial or quasi-judicial authority to determine the legality of a decision reached by such an authority.

Counsel further submitted to the Court that the prerogative writs could not apply in the circumstance as prayed by PENGASSAN, as the powers of the Minister conferred by section 9 of the Trade Dispute Act are unqualified executive powers and not judicial or quasi-judicial powers and the exercise of same cannot be subject to the process of judicial review.

The Court agreed with the submissions of MPN’s Counsel and dismissed the suit holding that the act of the Minister in referring the trade dispute to the Industrial Arbitration Panel, was done in due exercise of statutory powers conferred on him by the Trade Dispute Act and the Trade Dispute (Essential Services) Act and was not an exercise of judicial or quasi-judicial powers. The court further held that the PENGASSAN’s contention that its right of fair hearing was breached by the Minister in the exercise of his statutory powers was misconceived and inapplicable in the circumstance as the Minister has the unfettered right to make such referrals without recourse to parties. All of PENGASSAN’s prayers in its Originating Motion dated 25 May 2017 was refused and the matter was dismissed.

Consequently, the Industrial Arbitration Panel retains jurisdiction in the matter and PENGASSAN must abide by the subsisting order of the Panel against strikes and lock-outs. Messrs. Mathew Echo, Esq and Genevieve Osoka, Esq thanked the Court for its well-considered Judgment.

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