By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA – THE meeting between the Federal Government Negotiation Team and striking non teaching staff in the universities was inconclusive last night but with some agreements reached between the two parties.
Though the Federal Government team led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige had agreed to the 12 points demand of the three non academic staff unions of universities, the unions declined to sign agreement with Federal Government at the end of the meeting that lasted for about nine hours.
Reading some of the decisions reached at the meeting, Senator Ngige who was flanked by the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Prof. Stephen Ocheni stated that the Federal Government has approved the payment of N23 billion for Earned Allowances for Academic and Non Academic Staff of Federal Government during the negotiation with various parties.
Recall that the Joint Action Committee comprised of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Non Academic Staff Union, NASU, and National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, had on Monday, 11th September, 2017, embarked on total and indefinite strike action to press home for the implementation of the 12 demands including the 2009, 2012 and 2017 agreements signed by both parties.
President of JAC of the three unions and President of SSANU, Comrade Samson Ugwoke, at the end of the negotiation, disclosed that the Unions did not sign any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or agreement with Federal Government negotiation team because they have to take whatever agreements reached to their various National Executive Council, NEC for ratification.
He said the Unions lacked the power to endorse the document at the venue of the negotiation but would require the approval of various Unions’ NEC and revert back to government on Wednesday, 20th September, 2017.
Ugwoke noted that government’s negotiation team promised that certain amount will be paid to the purse of federal universities for onward disbursement to their members.
While describing the Minister as honest, sincere and willing to ensure that the strike was called off, expressed the readiness of the striking workers to return to their duty posts as soon as all the conditions are met.
Meanwhile, Federal Government through Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment had threatened to invoke Section 43 of the Trade Union Act which stipulate ‘No work no pay’ law, if members of the three non-academic staff unions of Federal Universities fail to resume work immediately.
The Minister explained that the parties agreed that Federal Ministry of Education should probe the alleged multiple accounts of some federal universities, protect whistle blowers and intensify anti-corruption crusade to within the university system.
He added that the parties also reached compromise on the release of revitalization fund for federal Universities in September and October 2017, while Federal Ministry of Education sis to release the certificate for the registration of NUMPENCO within one week of fulfilling all the conditions of registration.
He urged the Wale Babalakin’ Committee to fast track the negotiation process with various Unions within the University system.
According to him, National University Commission, NUC, had been directed to ensure the implementation of the National Industrial Court (NIC) on the Staff Schools within four weeks.
Earlier in his opening remarks before the clossed-door meeting, Senator Ngige, had frowned at the threat notice issued by the Unions for failing to adhere to the Industrial Relations Act.
The meeting which started about 1:30pm was stalled for about two hours due to power outage, but at the verge of postponing the meeting to Friday, electricity was restored at about 6:30pm.
He had told the unions, “You people are in a critical and important sector that is why your salary was removed from the normal salary scheme and a CONTISS was crested for you,” Ngige noted, just as he called for synergy with the present administration.
“As we all know, we have scheduled this meeting for last Monday but for reasons induced by JAC as being beyond your control we have to shift to today, so that you can have the opportunity to come with full team.
“We also want to make apology for the two Ministers of Education, they are not here, they are indisposed and their permanent Secretary is here to represent them with other officials from the ministry.
“This meeting in essence is for us to discuss with you. We got your letter here in the ministry and we make contact with the ministry of education who are your direct employers.
“Even from the letter we saw that the issues raised apart from one or two are the same issues we have been tackling with the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU).
“I have spoken to one of your Secretary General and I said there would be no need going on these because most of the issues in the letter are already been delay with under the negotiations going then with ASUU.
“Issues of Earned Allowances, inadequate infrastructure, shortfall in payment of salaries, registration of NUMPENCO (Nigerian Universities Pension Company) and these matters are already on the table and we have gone very far.
“As a matter of fact, we have started some implementation but sadly enough you took for your strike.
“I want to reiterate what I told the unions, the unions should operate within the ambits of the law. These citizens as enshrined in the constitution, the security and the welfare is the cardinal job of any government. No government will go out and start maltreating her people, so if we have laws is for the big and the small, for the high, mighty and the lowly, it is for everybody.
“Why I am going into this part is because the letter you sent to me say seven days ultimatum, whereas the letter I have, your strike of January says full strike and you started a strike and finished it and stopped, so this one you have given a notice for is a fresh strike and all the conditionalities tendered for a fresh strike should be given to government.
“And to me as the chief Labour officer of the federation, I do not want us to be legalistic again, we are here today, let us look at the issues and we will tell you through the Minister of Education what and the hat we have been able to do since yesterday they were fulfilling the conditionality.
“Some of the issues already raised here are also within your domain for you to fulfill your own side of the bargaining and government will do the needful. For example, the issue of NUMPENCO, I know that we have arranged that, when the appropriate forms are filled and other conditions met, government will deliver within one week and that is one of the agreements that we have with ASUU.”
On his part, the National President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who commended the Minister for conveying the conciliatory meeting, noted that trade union disputes should be resolved at the round table through processes of collective bargaining.
Wabba said, “This sector is one that is very critical to our national development and everything must be done possible to try to address those lingering issues which in some cases have become a reoccurring issues and I think proactivity we need to find a way and means around addressing this permanently.
“Importantly we should look at those areas that implementation has become problematic and see how to strengthen the collective bargaining agreement with the whole idea…”
On his part, Comrade Samson Ugwoke, SSANU President noted that union issued a 35 day notice to Federal Government in January, 2017, after which government called for negotiation.
Ugwoke who lamented the plight of thousands of workers employed in the Staff Schools, frowned at the non-implementation of the ruling of the National Industrial Court (NIC) who have been out of job for four years without pay.
He however noted that the leadership of the three Unions were at the conciliatory meeting with open mind
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