By Funmi Komolafe
It been over a month that members of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Educational Institutions have been on strike. Indeed NASU commenced a nationwide strike on July 8, 2009 . The strike coincided with that of the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Senior Staff Association ( SSANU).
So, what are the issues for NASU? Labour Vanguard met the national president of NASU, Comrade Ladi Iliya for her unionâ€™s side of the story.
She said it all in this interview.
Ques: Comrade, NASU has been on strike for a while now, what really are the issues?
Comrade Ladi Iliya, national president of NASU: â€œActually the point of disagreement is negotiation i. This started about two years ago, it was a build up on other negotiations. That was the negotiation we had in 2001 . Then it was agreed that negotiation would take place every four years, that is to take care of inflation.
It doesnâ€™t even have to be another negotiation, government can say we have agreed to build up on the existing salary structure. So, there was no point saying letâ€™s sit down and negotiate . We were expecting there should be a standing committee and that committee should be able to address these issues based on the economic situation of the country. Now, the point of disagreement between NASU and government is on the issue of disparity.
Here you have a system where you are all graduates working in an institution. Now, government is saying because I decided as a graduate to take to administration and my colleague decided to lecture, so for that reason, I will get 20% while he gets 40% . Already there is a disparity.
Now you are widening the gap. You are adding 40% to the academic staff and 20% to other persons, I mean NASU, SSANU and the rest but all the lecturers we are adding 40% and we are asking where is the fair play. You may say because the lecturer engages in researches, decide to add some special allowance that can bridge whatever gap you want to bridge on his salary but government stand is that it has to be 20-40% and we are saying that is not acceptable.
Is there a disagreement between ASUU and NASU on this?
No its not a disagreement between ASUU and NASU, it is a disagreement between NASU and the federal government. ASUU and NASU are trade unions; members of the Nigeria Labour Congress . I believe ASUU will not oppose increase across board. As an non-academician, if a person earns N 200,000 as allowance because she is lecturing, I cannot ask for it but when you sit down and look at the argument… for instance take Registrars and Bursars in the university, that means they will have 20% increase because they are not lecturers yet these are the people that work on the salaries. You can see the disparity, I am talking about.
So, what exactly are you expecting from government on this issue?
We want government to remove the disparity. Then the issue of retirement age. There was a standing retirement age in the 2001 agreement, that is 65 years but ASUU wants retirement age for its members to be 70 . As for NASU, it was not that we just woke up and decided to go on strike. We followed the unionâ€™s due process . We are not at the Industrial Arbitration Panel
( IAP) and IAP has fixed August 24 for the next hearing and we are going to go there.
Hasnâ€™t the IAP ordered NASU to go back to work?
It has not. We donâ€™t celebrate strikes.
How can we prevent a future occurrence of strike in the education sector especially the universities?
We donâ€™t celebrate strikes. These are things that if we had our way, we would stop it but what we are saying is, if we had a committee in which the minister for education, the accountant general, the Head of Service , the Secretary to the Government of the Federation are members, these are people that are supposed to brief the government. Why do you wait until I go on strike.
We have been on this argument for two years and for these two years we have not gone on strike because we wanted peace in the universities. Why must government take two years to decide on an issue. They are paying those in the committee, they are paying them allowances, transport fares to attend meetings and at the end of the year, that agreement was set aside. The government unilaterally decideds on what to pay. Those people in government, their children are not in Nigerian universities if their children were here, they would have felt the pain that other people are feeling.
Can you imagine a child in the final year who is supposed to take her final exams and proceed for the national youth service corp, is now staying at home. We donâ€™t celebrate strikes. It is not something that we like but because we have a government that doesnâ€™t listen or we have a government that is surrounded by sycophants, they donâ€™t want to tell the government the truth. Until we resolve to tell one another the truth, we would continue to have problems in this country.
Now, government is talking about university autonomy. If you are talking of university autonomy, you have an agreement in place already. So, you cannot say set aside this agreement because you now say you are granting autonomy. It doesnâ€™t make sense. We are not going to accept this. For a government that wants the system to go on what they would have done was to say, we have agreed on this. University we are going to give this much money to you so that you implement this, definitely the universities will work on it.
The committee that NASU negotiated with in 2007 was it a standing committee or an ad hoc committee?
It was a brand new committee headed by Mr. Gamaliel Onasode and we said these are people with proven integrity . Why should government ask them to negotiate only to come from another side and say this negotiation, should be kept aside and this is what we want to do. If government wanted to do that, they would have done that, without asking the old man to be travelling … he has other things to do.
So how do you think this crisis can be resolved ?
Government should go back to the drawing table. They should make sure they remove that disparity. When Obasanjo increased pay by 22%, he did it across board and there was no disagreement. People accepted it because it was fair. We are just from Geneva. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is talking about Decent Work . Itâ€™s talking about closing the poverty gap . If we all went to Geneva, (Government, Workers and Employers) why should we come to Nigeria to do a different thing.
When you talk of Decent Work, you are talking of take home salary that would be enough for somebody. You can pay your childrenâ€™s fees, you can pay your rent, take care of your medical expenses. Even though you cannot feed as the Senator or the House of Representative member or as a minister but at least you can survive with what you have. Government has economic advisers and it is their responsibility to advise government on how to close the social gap within the system.
Has NASU ever met the minister of education on this issue?
(After a short pause) No but we have made our position known . The minister of education cannot by pass the committee that government put in place .
So, the issue is above the minister?
Well, I donâ€™t know how government rates the position of the minister whether it is above him or below him. There is the need for government to put in place a permanent negotiating team that will reflect all interests. Not a one sided team like the present one. The government team is made up of vice-chancellor from this or that university.
What would you have preferred?
I mean, the minister of Labour is there, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is there, the minister for finance is there , these people should be involved in negotiation since they can implement. It is not the issue of another body doing the negotiation and then taking it to government to study. We have the Senate committee on Labour, the House of Rep committee on labour, what are they doing?
When we went for the last negotiation with the Onasode committee they were saying we should have called off the strike before coming to the negotiation table. It is not done anywhere. People will be on strike, weâ€™ll continue to negotiate as soon as there is a headway, we call off the strike. We are not in a military regime. Even in a military regime, people were on strike and they were negotiating.
You are saying the suspension of the strike is not a condition for negotiation
It is not and cannot be a condition for negotiation and now they are insisting that our negotiation does not include state universities. What some of us are saying is this is a negotiation between
federal government and NASU or ASUU or SSANU.
It is not the issue of states. Are we saying that a graduate that lectures in the state university is not an equal graduate with the one in the federal university. We are saying that we are trying to stop urban drift. If you are trying to do that, you must make sure that jobs in the state and local governments are attractive.
But the government is emphasising ability to pay. That the federal government cannot dictate to states what to pay their employees?
In the seven point agenda of Mr. President education is there. Are you no saying that his agenda does not include States? Sometimes, we donâ€™t look at the implications of what we say. Are the States going to produce graduates of lower quality? For me, I would say universities should be a competitive ground, I mean some state governments may pay more than federal universities.
State governments also have money. You were at the Town Hall meeting with Mrs. Clinton you heard what she said. It is not that we donâ€™t have money. People that are in public offices today, they were trained by the government some were even trained abroad on scholarship. Now, nobody is asking for scholarship, what we are asking for is the best for the educational system.
Today it is interrupted, tomorrow it is interrupted. It may interest you to know that some of them have their children are in Ghana. If Ghana didnâ€™t make it fine , will they go there.
This was a country that its citizens once trooped to Nigeria but today because their leaders are serious, they want the best for their country, our own children are now going to school there. If not because of shame we would go there for work. It appears that Mr. President is surrounded by people who cannot say to him, this is the right way. There should be fair play , that is what we are talking about.