BY VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
UNLESS the authorities concerned act fast, the nation’s university system may be thrown into another round of industrial unrest next week over dispute with Federal Government on 65 years retirement age for workers.
Three unions in the system, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU and the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT are all up in arms with the Federal Government over non-implementation of the 2009 agreement with the unions which among others, entail the issue of 65 years retirement age.
Leaders of SSANU, NASU and NAAT gave government up till yesterday to implement the 2009 agreement reached with them over 65 years retirement age for members in the universities, among others or face indefinite strike.
Available information disclosed that SSANU, NASU and NAAT had sent a letter intimidating government through the Minister of Education, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Senate and House of Representatives, the minister of labour and other relevant government offices over the looming industrial action.
SSANU President, Comrade Samson Ugwoke and the NASU General Secretary, Comrade Peters Adeyemi, had insisted that yesterday, November 30, 2011 was the deadline for government to implement the agreement or face the consequences.
While Comrade Ugwoke said the unions were ready to shut down the varsities because of government’s recalcitrance, Comrade Adeyemi said the only thing that would guarantee stability and industrial peace in the universities was if members were assured of enjoying the 65 years retirement age and the bill to that effect was passed.
It will recalled that a resolution was reached with the unions by the government on October 10 on the issue of 65 years retirement age, improvement on the funding of varsities, earned allowance and career structure for Technologists CONTISS 14 and 15, while the Implementation Monitoring Committee on the 2009 FG/NASU/SSANU/NAAT agreements is to conclude discussions and present report on November 22.
It was signed by the Minister of Education and the two permanent secretaries from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour for government while Comrades Ugwoke, Adeyemi and NAAT President, Abdulatef Jokomba signed for their respective unions. A letter by the Joint Action Committee on NAAT, NASU and SSANU was also written to the Minister of education, dated November 10 and sent to other relevant stakeholders.
According to SSANU’s President Comrade Ugwoke, “Yes, by December we will shut down all the universities in the country. The situation is clear, because on October 10th 2011 after the 7 days warning strike, we had a meeting with the Ministers of Labour and that of Education including their permanent secretaries and the leadership of the three unions, SSANU, NASU and NAAT.
At the end of the meeting, there was an MOU which was signed with the three unions that by November 22nd 2011, all committees must have completed discussions on the pending issues that had not been addressed and to be presented. But as I am talking to you now, government has not called us for a meeting.”
“We even wrote a reminded letter urging government to know the sacrosanct of the November 22nd 2011 MOU and that after that day; we are giving them extra one week to November 30th 2011 in which we will be pushed to resume our suspended strike.
To actualize this, the highest ruling body of NASU had met and deliberated on the matter, and SSANU National Executive Council would be meeting from November 30th to December 2nd 2011 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka to also discus on the matter. The areas of allowances, funding of the universities were not. Accommodations are not there, no laboratories, the library are not equipped, no classrooms, no office accommodation and so on.
“What we are saying in a nutshell is that since there is growth in the numbers of students in the universities, there should also be a corresponding increase in funding and facilities to accommodate the increasing number. People are talking of falling standard, why shouldn’t there be falling standard when you overcrowd a class.
He regretted that since the signing of the 65 years retirement age for their members in 2009, they have been retiring them en masse at 60, saying, “since that agreement was signed government has continue to retire them at 60 instead of 65, allowances of our members have not been approved and universities are not paying it, funding of the university has remain a mirage. So what do we do?”
How strike can be avoided—Adeyemi
Comrade Adeyemi, the NASU General Secretary who spoke at the end of the 5th National Delegate Conference of NASU said: “We had that agreement that we give government up to 22nd of November and that 22nd has passed and naturally we also had a meeting of the joint unions, that is NASU, SSANU and NAAT and we wrote another letter to the government to say we will give them up to the end of the month. I think my idea about that is not that when the month ends we will just start the strike.
“My idea about that is that because we also had some information about what is going on right now at the National Assembly. This bill has gone through the first and the second reading, so it shows clearly that some measures of actions is going on but if by 30th we meet and we find out that we are not sufficiently encouraged by what has happened, of course it is a suspended strike, we will have no option than to reinstate the strike.
“That is the position; it is as straight forward as that. We will review the situation by 30th and if we are convinced that there is a need for us to start a strike we will resume the strike. I am not going to say that the government has taken us serious and I am also not going to say that this government has the capacity to ignore us because if they do, they will be doing so at their own peril.
They have not given us the attention the way we wanted it but they have not ignored us, because to do so will be completely detrimental to their own interest. I think that to a large extent, it shows that a measure of action is on-going on this matter.
But we have to meet and decide as to whether we are satisfied with the level of the response the government has given to this matter in the last two weeks. If we are satisfied and we are convinced that the process will end in a few days, there may be no reason to say we are embarking on the strike.
But if it is a process that will still drag on for God’s know when then we will have no option than to tell our members to resume the strike. I think the real issue now is that the government has a responsibility of ensuring that the bill is passed and our members are assured of enjoying the 65 years retirement age. That is the only thing that will guarantee stability and industrial peace in the place.