Like in other Countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the survival of many businesses across all the sectors in Nigeria. In other to grapple with the rough tides and remain in business, owners of businesses have deliberately cut down the cost of running their business by reducing overhead costs, declaring some post redundant and reducing their workers by discharging them on grounds of redundancy.
This has created problems for both workers and employers. Whilst workers will lose their means of livelihood, it opens up employers to industrial actions by the discharged workers. It is therefore in the best interest of the employers and workers for employers to discharge workers on grounds of redundancy in line with the provisions of the labour law.
Section 20 of the Labour Act provides that in the event of redundancy, the employer shall inform the trade union or workers’ representative concerned of the reasons and extent of the anticipated redundancy. The employer shall adopt the principle of “last in, first out” in the discharge of the workers affected, subject to all factors of relative merit, including skill, ability and reliability. This means workers who have been in employment longer will be considered for discharge before the latest workers to come into the employment. The employer shall use his best endeavours to negotiate redundancy payments to the discharged workers who are not covered under any regulation.
However, it is settled law that where the employment of workers is wrongfully terminated i.e. terminated against the provisions of the labour law or their contract of employment, the remedy available to the workers is for their benefits which would have accrued to them had their employment been legally terminated, to be paid to them. Apart from employment with statutory flavour (i.e. workers in civil service or other employments protected by statutes), it has been settled by Nigerian courts that the law or Court cannot foist a willing employee on an unwilling employer and vice versa.
Hence, an employer has a duty to furnish the workers with a notice stating the reasons for their discharge on the grounds of redundancy and comply with the “last in, first out” principle in the labour law in discharging the workers. Nevertheless, the employer has the right to consider other factors like the relative merit, skill, ability and reliability of the workers in reaching a decision on which of the workers to be discharged on grounds of redundancy. The employer has a duty to rely on international best practices to reach a redundancy payment to the discharged workers who are not covered by any existing regulation.
Regrettably, where a worker was wrongfully discharged on ground of redundancy, the worker is only entitled to his redundancy benefits as stated in the relevant Employment Contract, Collective Agreement or regulation. The worker does not have a right to reinstatement, loss earnings, emotional or psychological pain. This is because the Court cannot force or foist a willing worker on an unwilling employer.