The Federal Government on Friday told members of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities and the National Association of Academic Technologists that they could not go ahead with their planned industrial action slated to start by midnight.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said this in an interview with State House correspondents shortly after a meeting he had with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The minister said going ahead with the planned strike would run contrary to the International Labour Organisation’s statute on social dialogue and principles at work.
He said this was because their employers had listened and brought them to the table for discussion. The minister said SSANU and NASU notified the government of the planned strike by the Joint Action Committee.
He added that the government moved to “apprehend the strike” because the country had just come out of a strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities which lasted nine months.
Ngige explained, “In consonance with the labour laws, we have apprehended both strikes. They gave us trade dispute notice, we scheduled meetings with them after apprehension, we held a meeting with NASU and SSANU last week Tuesday and government’s position was explained to them.
“They have a lot of issues mentioned as their grouse, issues like IPPIS. They said IPPIS had amputated some of their allowances, they also have the issue of consequential adjustment that was paid to all civil servants as a result of the new minimum wage of N30,000 for staff above Grade Level One, that is starting from Grade Level Two up to Level 17.”
However, the SSANU President, Mohammed Haruna, dismissed Ngige’s objections, stating that the strike would go on as planned.
He frowned on the minister’s failure to admit the breach of the various agreements signed with the unions.
“So, their refusal to fulfil the agreements that we signed and the violations of the MoUs that had a timeline was not a violation of the ILO statutes? When you are looking at one side of the coin, that is when you have problems.
“There was an agreement in 2009 signed duly by government officials; that agreement has not been fulfilled. There were so many issues that later came up and it culminated in an MoU signed in October last year and the government agreed there was a need to do something about it.”
Haruna explained that the Federal Government gave a timeline of two weeks to the ministries, departments and agencies concerned, noting that the terms of agreements were not implemented.
“From October to today, we are talking about four months. Is that not a violation of ILO laws?” the SSANU leader asked.
He cited the non-payment of arrears of the new minimum wage, which he said was a straightforward issue that should have been addressed.
“So, the simple question we asked, ‘When are you paying? But there was no answer. They came out with the story that it would be captured in the supplementary budget but did you hear about it in the National Assembly?”
He explained that the strike would continue as planned, adding that the meeting with the government would continue next Thursday.
Earlier, Ngige said explanations had been made on all the issues raised by the unions.
“So, in the main, after conferring with Mr President, we are telling the unions not to carry out the action because that action will run contrary to the ILO statute on social dialogue and principles at work because their employers have listened, they have brought them to the table.
“So, for SSANU and NASU, we are imploring them not to carry out their threat which they said will take effect this midnight, more so when the meeting adjourned at their own instance. Just this morning, I received a letter from them giving us a new date for the continuation of the dialogue.
“They proposed a new date of Thursday, February 11, and my office has communicated back to them that we will be ready for them at that time because as they claimed, they needed time to consult with their constituency and come back on the fresh issues that have cropped up from the discussion.”
Asked why government waited till the last day to respond to threats by the unions since they had given notice to embark on the strike starting midnight of February 5, Ngige said, “It will be preposterous for them to say that as we wait to negotiate further, they are invoking a strike by midnight today. That will be against the labour statute of both the ILO and the Nigeria Trade Dispute Act and we will frown on it if they ever go that route.”