BY EMMANUEL EDUKUGHO
AFTER a three-month strike by staff of tertiary institutions in Lagos State to press for implementation of the signed 2009 Federal Government/Academic Staff Union of Universities Agreement, the government and tertiary unions reached an accord on the eve of new year (December 31, 2010) which suspended the industrial action, with the four tertiary institutions now re-opened.
Since 2009, the state government had refused to commit itself to the implementation of the FG/ASUU agreement. There were series of talks, consultations and dialogues with government which ended in futility as it was obvious that Governor Babatunde Fashola was not willing to implement the agreement.
At a point in time, precisely on Monday, August 16, 2010, the Head of Service (HOS) invited the unions for an “important meeting” with Governor Fashola on implementation of the agreement. He told the unions that the Federal Government can not dictate to the states as they have their own priorities. The governor then went on to inaugurate a 22-man ad-hoc committee on “Development of Pay Policy Review And Salary Determination System in Lagos State Public Service”.
It was obvious he was playing for time with the intention of lumping staff of academic institutions and civil servants together under a unified salary system.
Faced with such a situation, all the tertiary unions came under one umbrella known as Joint Action Committee (JAC) to fight what they called “a common goal of improving the welfare of the workers, adequate funding of the tertiary institutions and improving the infrastructural facilities in tertiary institutions in Lagos State.”
With continued deadlock from the various meetings with government, JAC, after several ultimatums, then embarked on a total, comprehensive and indefinite strike beginning from Thursday, September 20, 2010. The unions vowed that the action will continue until all their demands are met.
On Monday, December 6, 2010, the governor invited leaders of tertiary unions, principal officers of tertiary institutions and members of the governing councils for a meeting where he appealed that the strike be suspended in the interest of students. But the unions stuck to their guns, insisting that government should honour the agreement first which most states in the country have honoured and implemented.
On December 31, 2010, another meeting was held between the government and tertiary institutions’ staff unions where an accord/agreement was reached.
Components of the new year eve agreement were:
*That the Lagos State Governments has agreed to implement the disputed October 2009 FG/ASUU agreement signed between the federal government and ASUU;
*That the financial aspect of the agreement shall commence on January 2011;
*That the Lagos State Government will increase Lagos State University (LASU) subvention by 25 per cent while the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the university would complement the balance;
*That the Lagos State Government has agreed that the accrued arrears from July 1, 2009 to December 31, 2010 shall be paid through the university IGR;
*That the 2nd and 3rd tranches of the already approved N3 billion arrears for the four tertiary institutions in the state shall be paid. The 2nd tranche shall be released as soon as work resumes while the last shall be paid early 2011;
*That the government has agreed to embark on intensive development of teaching, research and physical facilities in LASU;
*That the White Paper on the report of the LASU Visitation Panel shall be released as soon as all inter-ministerial and inter-departmental issues are resolved by the state government;
That the Lagos State
Government has agreed to involve LASU staff in efforts at repositioning, re-building viable, qualitative and functional academic programmes that would match up with world class standard across departments and faculties in the university; and
*That no member of the unions shall be victimised based on the lingering industrial action.
In a related development, the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) in a press statement, says it welcomes suspension of the strike, caused by the failure of the Lagos State Government to implement collective agreement reached between academic staff unions and the Federal Government in 2009.
“We in the ERC see this as a major victory for education workers in the state. We commend the leadership and members of ASUU, SSANU, NAAT, ASUP, SSANIP, SSUCOEN and COEASU for their commitment, determination and courage in the struggle to re-position the education sector. This victory has shown that struggle pays.”
ERC called on the government to implement this agreement with sincerity in order to avert a recrudescence of industrial dispute, against the background of the fact that “government in most cases reneged on agreement reached.”
In the statement signed by Hassan Taiwo Soweto, National Co-ordinator and Chinedu Bosah, National Secretary, ERC warned Lagos State Government not to ever consider increasing fees in the tertiary institutions as means of financing the implementation of the agreement reached with the staff unions.
“We make this warning because in items 3 and 4 of the agreement references were made in both instances to increasing IGR to complement government funding of education and off-setting the cost of paying the accrued arrears of staff. We hope Governor Fashola is not considering increasing fees.”
According to ERC, should this be the case, it will spearhead a resistance in collaboration with the students and staff unions by way of massive protests and demonstrations.
JAC, which comprised of all the staff unions that carried out the strike action was advised to be more active enough to monitor and ensure government’s compliance and implementation of the accord.
“Only by the united struggle of workers, parents and students can the struggle for free and functional education be won,” ERC stated.
The re-opened tertiary institutions are Lagos State University (LASU), Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), Michael Otedola College of Primary Education (MOCOPED) and Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTEC).