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ASUU strike and imperatives for compromise in trade dispute



On February 14, university lectures in the country under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) declared an indefinite nationwide strike after what its leadership described as the failure of the Federal Government to meet its demands. The declaration of an indefinite strike followed several weeks of warning strikes by the university teachers.

Among the demands of the lecturers are the payment of Earned Academic Allowances, revitalisation of public universities through improved funding, a salary payment system different from the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System (IPPIS) currently used for the payment of federal government workers.

ASUU argues that its demand for a separate salary payment platform is to take care of university environment peculiarities such as the earned allowances, sabbaticals and contract staff which are not accommodated in IPPIS.

The lecturers are also demanding the renegotiation of the 2009 FG-ASUU agreement. Broadly speaking, the agreement dealt with university autonomy and academic freedom, condition of service, funding of universities and other matters. Part of the agreements on earned academic allowances, provides for N15,000 per student for Lecturer I, N20,000 for Senior Lecturer and N25,000 for Readers and Professors for a maximum of 5 students per annum as postgraduate supervision allowance.

On the funding of the universities to bridge the gap in infrastructure deficiencies in the public universities, the parties agreed that the Federal Government universities required N1.5 trillion between 2009 and 2011.

On the other hand, the funding requirement for the state universities shall require, from the state government, N3.6 million per student over the same period to address its funding challenge.

The agreement states in part that the “basis of the data collected, and their analysis through a rational and scientific procedure, the following funding requirements were projected for a quick and effective remedy of deficiencies in the programmes and facilities, and for a systematic upgrading of programmes and facilities that would rapidly advance Nigeria’s knowledge production for development”.

ASUU has remained defiant that the agreement must be reviewed in line with its provision for a period review. A recent effort by government to woo the union to reconsider its position has hit the brick wall. Worried by the failure of both the federal ministries of Labour and Education to convince the lecturers, the government set up the Nimi Briggs Committee to intercede. But again, ASUU remained adamant.

Reacting to a failed parley with the Committee, ASUU president, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke declared that “They came with nothing. What they came with is from the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission which does not represent anything,”

While accusing the Federal Government of not giving the closure of universities to academic activities the attention it deserves, the ASUU president argued that “if we take education seriously it would not have lasted beyond February (when it started),” said Mr Osodeke, accusing the government of insensitivity.

On its part, the Federal Government has hit back at ASUU, invoking the no-work-no play creed as a tool to force the striking teachers back to the classrooms.

At a Ministerial Media Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team, on Thursday, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Minister of Education, Mr Adamu Adamu said the Federal Government will not pay salaries for the periods they will stay away from work to deter others who may contemplate similar strike in future.

Taking a cue from his senior colleague, the Minister of State for Education, Mr Goodluck Opiah, posited: “I think we cannot afford to set the wrong precedents by paying people who stayed at home for six months. How do we compensate the students for all the days the lectures were at home if we compensate the lecturers by paying them? If we can answer this question, that will help.

Government’s position, lawyers say, it backed by labour laws, particularly the Trade Union Act of 2005. Section 43(1) (a) of the Act reads: “Where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wage or other remunerations for the period of the strike, and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment, and all rights dependent on the continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly”.

In a recent media interview, Mr Yusuf Buhari, a lawyer, said that even if there was no such law, in every employment, there must be an agreement that spells out the terms.

“If you are going on strike, there must be a corresponding right to withhold your salaries. Such agreements are legal and binding in law,” he said.

Similarly, Another lawyer, Hamid Jimoh in an interview published in a national daily argued that the provisions of section 43(1)(a) and (b) of the Trade Union Act do not criminalise strike but establish that the striking workers would not be entitled to pay.

Mrs Toyin Oluwatobi, a psychologist said that in disputes of this nature, there is the need for both parties to minimise their egos and shift grounds. According to him, it is important that since it is impossible to meet all ASUU demands, the Federal Government should concede to the areas it can meet immediately in the interest of the society.

Oluwatobi’s position is supported by Prof. Noah Yusuf of Industrial Sociology, Peace and Conflict Management Studies, University of Ilorin who in a study posited that “Like conflicts in other spheres of life, industrial conflict needs to be curtailed so as to prevent its escalation. This could only be achieved through effective conflict resolution mechanisms. More importantly, is the need for conflicting parties in industrial organizations to adhere strictly to the statutory provisions of conflict resolution”.

The need for ASUU and FG to immediately resolve their differences through sincere negotiations and compromise is also backed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stance on “Labour dispute prevention and resolution” in which the international organisation holds that “ grievances and conflicts are an inevitable part of the employment relationship. The objective of public policy is to manage conflict and promote sound labour relations”.

Uche Anunne

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