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Supreme Court okays ex-workers move against firm over $56m payment

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The Supreme Court has granted former employees of Zapata Marine Services (Nig.) Limited, leave to serve their appellants’ brief of argument on the respondent (Tidex Nigeria Limited), through substituted means.
   
In its ruling delivered on October 9, 2019, the apex court justices, comprising Justice M. D. Muhammad (delivering the ruling), Justice K.M.O. Kekere- Ekun, Justice C. C. Nweze, Justice A. Sanusi, and Justice E. Eko, granted leave for the appellants’ brief of argument to be served at the respondent’s last known address being Apartment 1, First Floor 12A, AJ Marinbo Drive, off Daranijo Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, by pasting.
   
Plaintiffs counsel, Norrison Quakers (SAN), said he has in compliance with the ruling paste at the last known address of the respondent through Michael Ukoh, a bailiff of the Supreme Court.   

 
The former workers had approached the National Industrial Court (NIC), for an order to compel the respondent to pay them the sum of $56 million profit, after tax, declared by their former employers (Zapata) before the company was taken over by the respondent (Tidex).   
   
The $56 million claim is 10 per cent of the total profit of $560 million declared by Zapata.
   
The plaintiffs had argued that they had an agreement with Zapata to open a Workers’ Trust Fund, which would entitle employers who had stayed up to 30 years with the company to benefit from 10 per cent of its profit, as well as in the event of its winding up as was the case when Tidex took over the company.
   
The plaintiffs are specifically accusing the respondent of allegedly withholding about $56 million due to them from a trust fund created for employees of Zapata Limited prior to its merger with Tidex.
   
In a motion on notice, the applicants had urged the NIC to among others, declare that by virtue of the documentary evidence they had provided, there existed a Zapata Marine Workers Trust Fund as opposed to Zapata Marine Employees Shares created under a 1978 Trust, which have been redeemed by Tidex having taken over Zapata’s assets and liability.
   
In its response, Tidex denied the existence of any trust fund and urged the court to hold that the suit was speculative.
 
The firm’s director, Ade Williams, said in its counter affidavit that there was no time Tidex “took over the management, assets or liabilities of Zapata Marine Services Nigeria (ZMSN) Limited.”
   
He said the merger referred to by the applicants was that which took place between the parent companies in the USA and which did not affect their subsidiaries in Nigeria.
 
However, the NIC in its judgment delivered by Justice B. Adeyemo (presiding), Justice Benedict Kanyip, and Justice V.N. Okobi, dismissed the appellant’s entire claims.
   
The plaintiffs subsequently filed an appeal against the decision at the court of appeal, Lagos, alleging that they were denied fair hearing by the NIC.
   
The ex-workers had prayed the court of appeal to declare that they have the right to appeal the decision of the NIC, having not been given fair hearing at the NIC.
   
They also averred that NIC declined jurisdiction to grant leave to the appellants to appeal the judgment, saying it was the final and apex court on labour-related matters.
   
After the hearing, the Court of Appeal in November 2018, dismissed the appeal and upheld the judgment of the NIC, in the matter that has lingered for over 20 years.
   
Aggrieved by the decision of the Appeal Court, the plaintiffs further appealed to the Supreme Court for redress, consequent upon which, the apex court granted them leave to serve the respondents through substituted means.


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