By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA – THE Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has pleaded with the Federal Government to give them 18 months to develop their payment applications , the University Transparency and Accountability System, UTAS, as their preferred mode of payment.
ASUU had rejected the government introduced Integrated Payroll and Personel Information System, IPPIS, and even embarked on a two weeks warning strike over the refusal of government to pay those that did not enroll in the payment platform.
Vanguard reliably gathered that at the conciliatory meeting between the federal government and ASUU, at the Conference Hall of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the union was asked to present its own template having rejected the IPPIS.
A source privy to the meeting told Vanguard that the union at that juncture pleaded with the government to give them 18 month grace to go and develop the UTAS.
According to the source, “ASUU pleaded that it should be given 18 months to develop the UTAS. The union explained that developing the payment application software would take six months, the alpha testing of the equipment will take three months, what it calls Beta will take six months and rounding off the system to take three months.
“But the Federal Government team led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige asked the union what will happen in the interim. He told them that as the government waits for the 18 months for the development of the UTAS, they should in the interim enrol in the IPPIS starting from the middle of March, while special arrangements will be made to pay February salaries of those who have not registered with IPPIS “
According to the source, the Tuesday’s meeting which lasted till late night was inconclusive
Recalled that the two parties had last week rescheduled the meeting to Tuesday, March 17, for them to agree on how the contentious IPPIS, which the federal government recently introduced for all workers within its payroll will be implemented.
ASUU, had rejected the IPPIS which the government has made compulsory for workers on its employment and the union declared a two-week warning strike over the government refusal to pay them because they did not join in the new payment platform.
The government said that the IPPIS was introduced to curb corruption and also to eliminate leakages within the system.
However, the Federal Government through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris at the resumed meeting on Tuesday said that it has made proposals to the ASUU on how to amicably resolve the issues in dispute.
After the resumed negotiations that ended about 11pm, Tuesday, both sides agreed to adjourn negotiations to allow ASUU to take the proposals to its members and to respond to the federal government in writing on the issues raised.
Briefing journalists at the end of the prolonged meeting, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige, said the meeting discussed a wide range of issues, much more than anticipated.
According to him, “We discussed some of the issues in our 2019 meeting, those that were not fully addressed, and made new proposals on behalf of the federal government to ASUU.
“These issues range from funding for revitalization of universities to earned academic allowances, salary shortfall, that existed in only one university, that is the Federal University of Technology, Akure.
“The issue of state universities and the coordinating committee and the issue of their meetings and interaction with national economic council, payment of earned academic allowances which has been done, the issue of the issuance of operational certificate to National University Pension Commission ( NUPENCO) to lecturers pension scheme for lecturers.”
On how to get NUPENCO to become operational, Ngige said that government side has made proposals on how to put the board in place.
He also said that the issue of having visitation panels for the Universities has been sorted out and approvals given, adding that what remains was the gazetting of the membership of the various panels.
Also on the issue of dispute over IPPIS, he said that various options and solutions were cavanssed at the meeting and that government has made proposals to ASUU.
The Minister said that the ASUU team said it will take the proposals to their members and to respond in writing to federal government on or before weekend
Collaborating, the President of ASUU, Prof.Biodun Ogunyemi said the meeting made concrete progress.
It will be recalled that the Tuesday’s meeting was meant to reach agreement on how to integrate the two payment platforms, Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPIS) and University Transparency and Accountability System (UTAS).
Speaking earlier in his opening remarks before going into technical session, Senator Ngige said that meeting was a reconciliatory one and as such both sides was expected to tune down their comments.
Ngige said that ASUU had earlier submitted its position paper on the issues in dispute on Monday.
Ngige who led the federal government team including the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Education, Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba, Accountant General of the Federation, Idris Ahmed and the acting Director of the Salary and Wages Commossion, Mr. Ekpo said the meeting will break into a closed technical session and will address journalists later after conclusion of talks.
However, ASUU president, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi said the union will like to correct the impression that the negotiation is limited to just disagreement over IPPIS.
He accused the Federal Government of being responsible for the ongoing crisis which led to a nationwide strike.
The ASUU boss stated that the government’s directive to stop payment of salaries to university lecturers fueled the union’s resolve to down tools.
According to him, the various complaints on the several lapses attached to the payment of February salaries to sister unions, was a proof that the IPPIS was incapable of accommodating academic staff salary structure of Tertiary institutions.
He said, “We had a Memorandum of Action we were tracking and what that means to us is that government actually ignited the ongoing crisis. Not when government introduced IPPIS and tried to sell it through dialogue, but when it resorted to the use of force.
“Government officials ignited the crisis by stopping the payment of salaries of our members citing Mr. President before their speech as a directive and they insisted that universities must enroll on IPPIS platform at a time we thought we were engaging ourselves.
“Well we have responded positively but we rescind and resist descent to the logic of force.
“It should be recalled that during our meeting with Mr. President on 9th January 2020,Mr. President did promised to set up a high powered enquiry to look into how much would be allowed in terms of management of resources and personnel of the universities.
“Within the limits of the constitution, ASUU was still expecting the fulfilment of this promise, when the union was confronted with the unilateral stoppage of salaries by government.
“IPPIS is simply incapable of accommodating academic staff salary structure at the tertiary level and government should take full responsibility for the consequences of the ongoing action.
“It was never mentioned in any of our memoranda that bursars of Universities will be the ones to generate budgets for the national assembly or address the main streaming of our allowances.”
In his response, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige who had earlier assured the union of government’s resolve to address the bone of contention, however noted that it was not a time to start apportioning blames.
The Minister said, “I am assuming my role as a conciliator here. This meeting is not for us to apportion blames and say who is right or who is not right, we will go into our technical session and continue from where we stopped.”
Both sides had met on Thursday last week and accepted in principle to seek for ways of accommodating the identified differences inherent in the two salary payment platforms, IPPIS and UTAS.
Speaking at a reconvened meeting between the Union and government on Tuesday in Abuja, Ngige, expressed hope that both sides would try to resolve the matter without prolonged negotiations.