The Federal Government has faulted claims by the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Biodun Ogunyemi, that it has failed to deliver on the timelines offers made to the union and that University teachers cannot return to classes on “ empty stomach.”
Dismissing the claims by ASUU, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen Chris Ngige, said that while it is true that some of the offers made to ASUU have timelines, the same timelines have faithfully been complied with.
He disclosed that one of the key agreement reached at the last negotiation meeting was for ASUU to call off the strike so as to enable his ministry to get the Presidential waiver to pay some of the withheld salaries of lecturers outside of the Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information system (IPPIS).
Ngige also noted that the Visitation Panel already approved by President Muhammadu Buhari could not get to work when the campuses are empty as a result of the protracted strike by ASUU.
ASUU had insisted that until the withheld salaries are paid to its members, the strike would not be suspended, arguing that the lecturers could not afford to resume work hungry as they are being starved by non-payment of salaries.
Ngige in a statement made available to newsmen, on Tuesday, in Abuja, said: “For instance, the Federal Government promised to constitute a Negotiation Committee for the 2009 Agreement and has fulfilled it with the last week’s inauguration of the committee that has Prof Muzali as chairman.
“The N40bn Earned Academic Allowances/ Earned Allowances have also been processed just like the N30 billion revitalisation Fund, bringing it to a total of N70 billion.
“Likewise, the Visitation Panels for the Universities have been approved by the President but the panel cannot perform its responsibilities until the shut universities are re-opened.
“The gazetting is also being rounded off at the Office of Attorney General of the Federation while the Ministry of Education is ready to inaugurate the various visitation panels.
“Similarly, Government agreed to pay salaries, allowances of Earned Academic Allowances/ Earned Allowances with a hybrid platform that is not hundred per cent IPPIS as requested by ASUU while the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) is undergoing usability and integrity test at National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) as demanded by ASUU.
“I, therefore, state without equivocation that every offer with a timeline has been faithfully fulfilled as promised by the government.”
The Minister noted that it was false and discomforting for ASUU to wrongly inform the general public that the Federal Government agreed to pay all withheld salaries before it will resume work.
“The truth of the matter is that a ‘Gentleman Agreement’ was reached at the last meeting in which ASUU agreed to call off the strike before December 9, 2020, and the Minister, in turn, agreed that once the strike is called off, he would get a presidential waiver for ASSU to be paid the remainder of their salaries on or before December 9, 2020.
Part of the proposal ASUU took back on November 27, 2020, reads, “the Hon Minister of Labour and Employment informed that he had consulted with the Hon Minister of Education on getting a waiver on the issue of No Work, No Pay as stipulated in Sec. 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria( LFN )2004, but a reservation has been made concerning this request because of the ongoing strike by ASUU.
“The HML&E, therefore, agreed to work on this to be actualized before Wednesday, December 9, 2020.
“ For the avoidance of doubt and for clarity, it should be stated that ASUU began warning strike on March 9, 2020, and went into full-blown industrial action on the 23rdof the same month over IPPIS payment platform.
“With the lockdown at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minister got special presidential approval to demonstrate good faith to ASUU members that government is not on a vengeful mission or out to starve ASUU to death as some of them are claiming.
“They were subsequently paid for two months of February and March after which it was extended to April, May and June, months they were on strike on compassionate ground, bringing it to five months.
“This was done because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its deleterious effects on incomes of all workers and their families as government reasoned that ASUU members also have families.
“The Minister later invited ASUU to a virtual conciliatory meeting which they turned down. He further requested them to show good faith over the five months salaries government made to them by returning to the classroom and start virtual and online teaching as being done by private universities, while government sorts out the rest of their requests, they also refused.
“It is therefore unbelievable that ASUU President claimed that government agreed to pay outright, the entire money of the period of the strike to them, even for staying at home and refusing to do either virtual teaching or research.
“I wish to emphasize further that the outstanding salaries to ASUU is for the month of July, August, September and October as no federal public servant has been paid for November 2020. Hence, it is baseless for ASUU to claim it cannot go back to school on an empty stomach while the government has on compassionate grounds, paid five months salaries out of the nine months they have been on strike.
“ASUU is fully aware of the principle of No Work, No Pay of the Sec. 43 of the Trade Disputes Act under which many unions like National Association of Residents Doctors( NARD) in 2017 and Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) in 2018 among others have lost salaries as a result of the strike.
“It is consequently important to inform Nigerians, especially parents that Federal Government is asking ASUU to go back to work and when they do, the Ministers of Labour, Finance and Education will put up a memo to deal with the outstanding four months of salaries.
“Asking the government to pay these four months before it goes back to work, means ASUU is placing itself above the law of the land and no government will encourage, it as it is a recipe for chaos in the labour milieu.
“Finally, the Federal Government will continue to engage ASUU in the spirit of social dialogue which the Ministry of Labour and Employment has been encouraging based on the ILO Principle on decent work.”
Credit: Nigerian Tribune