…Govt ‘s difficult to trust says Labour
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA – THERE are indications that the Federal Government may have agreed to implement the demands of the non-teaching staff unions in the Universities that necessitated the issuance of the 14-days Ultimatum so as to avert the planned shut down of the nation’s ivory towers.
The Joint Action Committee, JAC, comprising the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Educational Institutions, NASU and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU had issued a 14-Day Ultimatum to the Federal Government last week to either address their grievances or they will embark on total and indefinite strike.
The Ultimatum was supposed to expire on 19th August.
Among the contentious areas included the Earned Allowances which the non-teaching staff unions claimed that they were shortchanged in the sharing formula. They said that out of the N23 billion released to the four unions in the university, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, allegedly took over about eighty per cent of the money, leaving only twenty per cent for the three unions.
They also lamented the inability of the government to obey court judgment especially the judgment of the Industrial Court in 2016 that directed the government to reinstate sacked workers of Staff Schools which has not been complied with and the re-negotiation of the 2009 agreement.
In what may be described as a proactive measure the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr. Sonny Ochono last week summoned the leaders of the two unions under the umbrella of JAC at the ministry’s headquarters, Abuja, to discuss the problems in a bid to find a lasting solution.
Vanguard reliably gathered that the Federal Government through the Permanent Secretary alongside the Directors in the ministry promised to implement the three contentious issues.
In an interview with Vanguard, Chairman of JAC and President of SSANU, Comrade Samson Ugwoke said that the government has promised to address the issues by reversing the status quo in the sharing of the Earned Allowances, bring back the sacked workers of the University Staff Schools who are still alive and also begin renegotiation of the 2009 agreement with the unions.
But a member of the JAC and General Secretary of NASU, Comrade Peters Adeyemi said that despite the decisions reached at the meeting, it was difficult to trust government when it comes to keeping agreements.
However, JAC Chairman, Ugwoke said, “We had a meeting convened by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education over our 14-Day Ultimatum for government to implement all our demands or else by 19th of August we proceed on one week total and comprehensive warning strike.
“In response to that, they invited us to a meeting yesterday at the Minister’s Conference Room, Ministry of Education. NASU and SSANU were well represented, the exco of JAC was there and we had a discussion with them. The Permanent Secretary tried to give us the update on major three items, vis-a-vis the Earned Allowances, the University Staff Schools matter and the renegotiation.
“On the renegotiation, he observed that we are correct that since this year 2019, we have never met. He said that the ministry has written, discussed with the Chairman to commence re-negotiation with us and ensure that the renegotiation is within six months. A copy of the letter will be given to us to that effect we said okay.
“But we informed him that we have not been contacted by the Secretariat of the renegotiation committee, he said he was going to repeat a call and a letter to the Chairman to commence renegotiation immediately and end within six months.
“As for the University Staff Schools, yes, he repeated the stand of the government on the court judgment of 5th December 2016 which he said that government was not ready to appeal and that government was ready to implement.
“To this end, he said that from the advice of the Attorney General of the Federation and others, that government can go ahead and recall them. He even told us that when a case came from the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife, he has written a letter recently to the Vice-Chancellor to immediately obey the court order and allow the sacked staff to stay.
“But we told him that we don’t want letters to be written to individual Vice-Chancellors, we want the matter taken holistically. There are so many of our branches are in court over this Staff School issue.
“So what he should do is to write a memo to the Accountant General of the Federation as regards the enrollment of those people in the payroll of the individual universities and copy that letter directing the Executive Secretary of the NUC to forward the letter to the Vice Chancellors for immediate implementation so that those universities that sacked the staff should recall those who are alive.
“Those that have either absolved them on half salary or taken care of them through IGR should now bring them into the mainstream of the University and enlist their names in the payroll of the university.
“So, to this end, we agreed that this letter should be written and it should go to all the Vice Chancellors. We know that few State Universities that we have cases with will always refer to the Federal implementation to the various universities and once we have a letter like that, it can also be sent to state universities.
“The Earned Allowances. He appealed to us to exercise a little patience, that he wanted a holistic and permanent resolution of the crisis of sharing or distribution of funds to universities through labour or by the Accountant General’s office.
” He said that he was now ready to do what we had proposed. First, that they are going to send companies to go to universities for verification. To verify individuals that are due for Earned Allowances and how much each individual is entitled to and also how much have been paid to them and how much balance remains.
“That when they do that, we will now actual figure of entitlement to each individual which will culminate in having the amount owed to each university. He is telling us that the next tranche of the release of Earned Allowances is September and he would not like to apply for the release of this Earned Allowances based on the projected figure, he wants to have the actual figures.
“So, he has written to the Accountant General that this process of verification must end within six weeks so that when the September money is released, they will now know the level of actual indebtedness and the money will be spread on pro-rata basis to universities and to people.
“We told him that we want these letters so that we can call the NEC of JAC and tell them the situation because the strike issue was approved by NEC, we don’t have the power to say we are suspending or not suspending.”
Ugwoke said when the JAC gets the expected letters which would disclose the steps government is taking to re-ensure that there will be accountability and that the injustice done to them remedied in the next tranche, then they will be able to inform their members who will, in turn, take decision either to go ahead with the strike or exercise patient to see what will come out of it.
He said that they were not withdrawing the Ultimatum yet, adding, “I have said we have finished the meeting with the Permanent Secretary and he has made some offer to us, we are taking it to NEC and it is for NEC to take decision and not us.”
Also speaking, the General Secretary of NASU, Comrade Adeyemi said that the meeting was fairly successful but that the unions were waiting for the draft of the decisions from the government before they could take any other action.
He also noted that the government had the problem of keeping to the agreements it entered into with unions which had made it difficult to trust the government.
He said, “It was true we held a meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education and his team on the issues at stake and the Permanent Secretary gave a very extensive presentation on all the issues that were in contention.
“That is the issue of renegotiation that appears to have been stalled, the issue of Staff Schools and the issue of the Earned Allowances.
“On the renegotiation, the ministry promised that efforts are at an advanced stage to get the government team to return to the negotiating table. On the Staff Schools, government said they have reached a point where they are going to ensure that all the institutions are clearly directed that they are not opposed to the court judgment and that the status quo ante has to be reverted to.
“On the Earned Allowances, they regretted the problem that happened and that there are concerted efforts being made now to ensure that those errors are corrected.
“We are still waiting for the summaries of the decision taken, when we have it in black and white, we will be able to communicate it to our members and maybe then seek their positions vis-a-vis the Ultimatum that is on ground.”
When asked if there was any sincerity on the side of government, he said,” I will not say there is no sincerity and I will not say there is sincerity. All I know is that as a trade union, we are not supposed to be allergic to holding meetings.
“You know clearly that even if you go to war, you have to come back to the round table. So even if we go on the strike, we will still come back for meeting and discussion.
“So we have not said that the meeting has abolished or has tied our hand in going ahead with our action. We have not also said that the meeting was held in bad faith. So when we get the outcome, we will sit down and consider it and then we will discuss with our members and chat the way forward.
“If we know that the outcome of the meeting is entirely positively on the issues that we raised, in the interest of our students, there is no reason flexing muscles unduly. Some of the things that are supposed to happen should happen between now and September.
“It may make some sense that you even delay on your action and let the government fail on its promise, then you will have a bigger space within which to deal with the situation but we at the leadership level cannot entirely determine this, we have to put it before our members for their consideration.
“So for me I think fairly government is almost very difficult to trust but no matter what, we also have the carrot and the stick, they are a necessity evil you have to continue to deal with them, you have to continue to hold them to their words because what we are looking for is not with us, it is with them. This is how far we have gone and I think it is a fairly successful meeting but let’s wait for the summary of the decision.”