By Usman Abdullahi Koli
The federal Government has faulted claims by the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi, that it has failed to deliver on the timelines on offers made to the union.
It insisted that the timelines had been complied with and “faithfully implemented”.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, revealed that ASUU agreed at their last meeting with the government team on November 27 to call off their nine-month-old strike before December 9.
“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 ASUU to be paid the remainder of their salaries on or before December 9,” Ngige stated.
This was contained in a statement from Ngige media office on Tuesday, titled, ‘We have kept our promises to ASUU-FG’.
Punch newspapers indicated that the statement also cited part of the agreement reached at the meeting with ASUU in which the labour minister said he had consulted with the Minister of Education on getting a waiver on the issue of ‘No Work, No Pay’ under section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act.
Ogunyemi had blamed the FG for union’s failure to call off the strike, noting that the lecturers would not return to classes until their salary arrears were paid.
But refuting the claims, Ngige said it is false and discomfiting for ASUU to wrongly inform the public that the government agreed to pay all withheld salaries before it will resume work, stressing that the timelines attached to the various offers made to the union had been complied with.
The minister stated, “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 N40b Earned Academic Allowances have also been processed just as the N30b revitalization Fund, bringing it to 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 gazzeting is also being rounded off at the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation while the Ministry of Education is ready to inaugurate the various visitation panels.”
Ngige explained that he got special presidential approval to demonstrate good faith to ASUU members that the government was not on a vengeful mission or out to starve the lecturers to death as some of them were claiming.
He disclosed that “they were paid for 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.”
The statement added, “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.”
The government said the outstanding salaries to ASUU was for July, August, September and October “as no federal public servant has been paid for November 2020.”
The minister said it is baseless for ASUU to claim it cannot go back to school on an empty stomach while the government had on compassionate grounds paid five months salaries out of the nine months they had been on strike.
“ASUU is fully aware of the principle of No Work, No Pay of the section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act under which many unions like National Association of Residents Doctors in 2017 and Joint Health Sector Unions in 2018 among others, have lost salaries as a result of the strike,” he noted.
Ngige asked the university teachers to go back to work, pledging that the Ministers of Labour, Finance and Education would put up a memo to deal with the outstanding salaries for four months.
“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,” the minister said, adding that the FG would continue to engage the union in the spirit of social dialogue