Education

Why we suspended our strike for five weeks – NASU, NAAT, SSANU

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The non-teaching staff of Nigerian universities have provided reasons for suspending their strike for five weeks.

The staff, members of three unions, NASU, SSANU, and NAAT, announced the suspension of the three-month and 10 days old strike on Wednesday.

Sam Ugwoke, the national president of the Joint Action Committee of the three unions, announced the suspension at a media briefing in Abuja.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the federal government said it will look for N8 billion within five weeks to pay the striking workers on Monday.

Mr. Ugwoke enjoined the government to “ensure compliance” with agreements reached with the unions.

According to Mr. Ugwoke, the federal government said the demands will be implemented within five weeks after which all stakeholders will reconverge at the ministry.

“Machinery has been put in place for all our demands, money should be in the account of our members by then and the presidency should have replied and given directive for the visitation panel to the university on corruption issue within the five weeks,” he said.

The union also issued a detailed statement explaining why it agreed to a ceasefire, and “what will be done by it after one month”.

Read the full statement below:

“Our dear colleagues and friends from the media, you will recall that the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of NAAT, NASU and SSANU embarked on a total, comprehensive and indefinite strike action on Monday, 4th December 2017.

You will also recall that the strike action was embarked upon following our demands for the full and proper implementation of our 2009 Agreements with the federal government as well as the various Memoranda of Terms of Settlements.

The specific issues are:

The reinstatement of our members in the University Staff Schools, who were removed from the budgets of the universities based on an obnoxious budget call circular from the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission in gross contravention of the 2009 Agreement with the Federal Government.

Following this circular, we had made series of protests, leading to taking the matter to the National Industrial Court for adjudication, where it was ruled in our favour that the federal government must continue to bear the full capital and recurrent costs of the university staff schools.

The issue of payment of Earned Allowances where a sum of N23 villion released by the federal government in September 2017, was skewed in favour of a sister union by some government officials thereby leaving 11 per cent of the said sum to the non teaching unions/ staff.

This untoward act of the government abdicating its duties and responsibilities to one union, has far reaching effects than just the money concerned, but on the good governance and administration of the universities because every procedure and established protocol for disbursements of such monies were jettisoned to make way for the anomalous payment. It also has implications on the anticorruption war of the present government.

The issue of shortfalls in salary payments where our members have been receiving fractions of their salaries for upward of a year now.

The issue of career progression for Technologists to CONTISS 14 and 15, in line with the agreement reached with NAAT.

Usurpation of non teaching career positions by academic staff. Corruption in the university system; among others.

Our friends from the press, we need not remind you that before this present strike action, two different Memoranda of Understanding had been reached with the Federal Government through the Honorable Minister of Labour and Employment, the last being the one signed on Wednesday, 20th September, 2017.

We waited patiently for the consummation of the Memoranda of Understanding to no avail. Clearly observing that a segment of the university system was being favoured to our detriment, we were forced to resume our suspended strike on 4th of December, 2017.

A sad statement of the government’s’ shoddy response to industrial conflicts and labour issues generally, manifested, as it was only after two weeks of the strike action and having given a clear two weeks’ notice to resume strike, (making a month), before government decided to honor us with a meeting, precisely on December 19, 2018.

At the meeting of 19th December, 2017, the government through the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, accepted responsibility for the sloppy and inequitable payment of Earned Allowances and assured that all efforts were in gear to ensure that monies were mopped up from various sources so that we were paid our fair due of the Earned Allowances.

A reviewed call Budget Circular supposedly withdrawing the earlier Circular from the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission was also presented though we wish to clearly state that the new circular gave even more obnoxious and repulsive directives to the Vice-Chancellors, worse than the earlier one that was in contest. The meeting ended with an understanding that they would reach back to us as soon as something was on offer for our members.

After that meeting, there was no follow-up by Government until we were invited on Thursday, February 1st, 2018, by the House of Representatives Committee on Tertiary Education and Services. Continuing the litany of sad statements to Labour related issues, the meeting which was supposed to be a tripartite engagement between the Unions, the House of Representatives Committee as mediator and the Federal Ministry of Education, had no representative of the Ministry in attendance.

This was despite assurances by the House Committee Chairman that the Honorable Minister was duly served the notice of meeting, which was also acknowledged. Despite the absence of the Ministry representatives, the JAC of NAAT, NASU and SSANU made presentation.

We were unable to go forward on account of the absence of the Honorable Minister of Education or his representative at the meeting and it was agreed that the House Committee would reconvene possibly two weeks from that day.

We were however invited the following day, Friday, February 2nd, 2018, to a meeting with the Honorable Minister of Education where it became clearer to us that our matter was not receiving any serious attention. We left that meeting with an understanding that Government was not yet prepared for the resolution of the matter.

On account of the meetings, we reached out to our various branches for feedback on the way forward, and the consensus was that the strike should not be suspended and we should proceed with the industrial action till when our demands are met. This we communicated to the Honorable Minister of Education.

There was a lull in negotiations until our meetings with the House of Representatives Committee on Tertiary Education and Services along with the Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity which held on Monday, 5th March 2018.

Thankfully this time, we had the Ministry of Education represented by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, along with the Executive Secretaries of the National Universities Commission and TETFUND. Also in attendance was the Registrar of JAMB.

Following lengthy deliberations, the government side explained that all efforts were being made to get monies from the appropriate quarters to pay our Earned Allowances which we had earlier been cheated. They also said they were trying their best to ensure that all other issues were resolved.

The House Committees, having considered the matter, pleaded that both parties should do all in their best to ensure the matter was resolved.

Similar scenario played out at a meeting the next day, 6th March, facilitated by the Honorable Minister of Labour and Employment.

Not to be seen as too rigid, the national leadership invited the branch leaderships, who are our eyes and ears at the grassroots to a joint meeting on Wednesday, 7th March 2018 and the conclusion was that having come this far, it would not augur well to suspend the strike on the strength of verbal promises of action with nothing to show for it.

It was the belief of our members that the Ministry of Education was given all the trust and confidence when the MOU of 20th September 2017 was signed and it would be unwise to have confidence in the same individuals when there is nothing tangible on ground except verbal assurances.

The joint meeting equally approved a protest rally held the next day, 8th March 2018 on the streets of Abuja. Immediately after the protest, we attended another meeting with the Honorable Minister of Labor and Employment where this time around, the Government side was ready to commit itself in writing to meeting some of our demands within a specific time frame.

To be specific, the understanding that was reached, gave a five week period for the implementation on payment of a fraction of the arrears owed on Earned Allowances to our members and also report progress made in respect of CONTISS 14 and 15 for Technologists.

Similarly, the issue of Staff Schools is to be taken up by the Federal Ministry of Education with the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, to ensure that they comply properly with the National Industrial Court ruling, while the follow up on Visitation Panels to Universities shall also be reported in five weeks time.

Given the fact that the government side had now developed the courage to commit itself in writing via yet another MOU, we resolved to revert to our various organs and give a feedback to the world today.

Many of our members have asked us how many MOU’s we will sign with government. They have asked us to justify why we are signing yet another MOU rather than insisting that the strike continues till our demands are met.

As leaders, we are also worried and concerned, but we have resolved that though government keeps repeating the wrong things, we will not give up on government and will continue to insist that the rights of our members are given to them and agreements entered into by government with our unions are duly respected and honoured.

As Nigerians, we keep expressing our concerns over the penchant of government to rush to sign agreements and developing cold feet to implementing them.

The problem with our labour firmament is not so much about lack of agreements but the actualisation of these agreements. Our conviction is in the dictum “Pacta sum servanda”- agreements entered into must be honored.

This strike, like all others before it, was avoidable and would have been averted if government had been honorable with the Non Teaching Staff Unions in the Universities. Unfortunately, it was foisted on us by the insensitivity, double standards and the divide and rule approach of allocating resources which were meant for all university workers to a segment.

We are not unaware of the effect of the strike on Nigerians but being left with no choice and having exhausted all avenues to make government see reason, we had to proceed.

Sadly, we are as much the victims of the strike as other Nigerians. Unlike many public officers and political office holders, our children do not school abroad and it is our livelihoods that sustain them through school.

You can only imagine the threat to their existence when our sources of livelihood are being threatened. The strike action became the last resort to wade off this threat to our livelihoods.

Talking about threats, we use this opportunity to bring to the attention of the public, the back handed and evil tactics of some Vice-Chancellors and Managements to undermine the legitimate strike action embarked upon by the Unions in line with the Labour Laws of the country.

Members of our Unions in quite a number of universities were blackmailed, intimidated, harassed and coerced, all with a view to ensure that the strike is broken. For example, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Lagos, where our Executives and prominent individuals were arrested by the Nigeria Police and detained for hours, ostensibly on the directives of the Vice- Chancellors.

At Federal University of Technology Akure, a certain Professor led a pack of lecturers to violently attack our members and broke into the Physics store in the Department of Physics.

This use of force, violent language and weapons by these so called academics, we find very unbecoming and objectionable. Our members at some other universities were harassed, threatened and even attacked either by the Nigeria Police, overzealous members of ASUU and in some cases, students, sometimes at the instigation of the Vice-Chancellors and Managements of the Universities.

It is indeed shameful to note that the Nigeria Police has turned itself into an enemy of the people they should protect as they have become willing tools for the harassment and victimization of innocent and hapless Nigerians protesting for their legitimate rights as protected by the law. If they thought our strike was illegitimate, with the signing of an MOU with Government and the understanding reached, it is obvious that we had a legitimate strike and all the harassments were needless.

Vice-Chancellors should be fathers of all unions and not side one union against the other three. When one union goes on strike, it is considered their right and Managements give them cooperation but when the non teaching staff unions go on strike, it is considered an anomaly and no effort is spared to break the strike.

We believe that some Vice- Chancellors need to check themselves as their actions not only stir up controversies, they also promote avoidable industrial disputes.

In the belief that government through its representatives, would be honorable this time around, and based on extensive consultations with our various organs, we hereby announce the suspension of the strike action embarked upon by the Joint Action Committee of NAAT, NASU and SSANU with effect from today, Wednesday, 14th March 2018.

We have therefore directed our members to resume work tomorrow, Thursday, 15th March 2018.

We however wish to state, that the strike is only suspended and we shall not hesitate to resume the strike if government reneges on the agreements reached or delays in any aspects.

We are resuming with one eye closed. We trusted government before and they failed, this time around, if they fail, the outcome and reaction will be grievous to the system.

In the meantime, we appeal to our members to be more dutiful and conscientious at their duty posts and show more commitment towards covering the lost ground occasioned by the strike.

On this note, we wish to thank the Honorable Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator (Dr.) Chris Ngige for facilitating the conciliation, though we do not hesitate to say that it could have been earlier and without the threats of “no work no pay” as reported in the media.

We wish to commend and appreciate the House of Representatives Committee on Tertiary Education and Services ably led by Honorable Aminu Suleiman, for the seriousness with which they took up this matter and the painstaking efforts of all members of the House Committee. This appreciation also goes to the House Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity, and by extension, Honorable Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Honorable Yakubu Dogara for the directives he gave the Committees in respect of our matter.

We cannot but appreciate the leader of the labour movement in Nigeria, Comrade Ayuba Wabba for his support and guidance throughout the struggle. We appreciate all Nigerians, especially the students for the sacrifices they made and the pains they endured during the strike action. Specially noted is the role of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and all other groups, especially stakeholders in the educational sector.

We express our deepest appreciation to the NEC members and branch members of the three unions, NAAT, NASU and SSANU. Their loyalty to the cause and compliance with directives are greatly appreciated. The struggle is not yet over. While we hope that we do not have to resort back to strike, it may become inevitable if government reneges again and we know that our members are not only vigilant but on standby and ready if need be.

To our great partners and allies from the media, we thank you for your efforts and time. We appreciate your role and know your commitment to ensuring that Nigeria becomes a better country for us all. We are also driven by that commitment and we know that one day, Nigeria will be a better place.”

-Premium Times

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