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By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, ABUJA

THE Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has explained that his ministry adopted voluntary conciliation for the resolution of the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, instead of arbitration, in order not to delay the resolution process.

Ngige disclosed this while answering questions from journalists at the Joint Workshop on International Labour Standards and Dispute Resolutions, organised by the Industrial Arbitration Panel,  IAP, in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation, ILO, in Abuja.

The Minister said he could have transmitted the matter to the IAP or the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), but used his discretion to weigh the situation to know if  it would cause more delay in the resolution of the dispute in a court process.

He recalled that ASUU embarked on strike on February 14 and he started voluntary conciliation on February 22 and subsequently, on March 1.

According to him, by the second meeting, most of the issues arising from the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) signed between ASUU and the Ministry of Education with other government agencies involved, were conciliated, leaving out only two.

Ngige said:”The two outstanding issues were the conditions of service, which according to the 2009 agreement would be reviewed every four years.

“The last review was in 2013 and we started the review in 2018 under Wale Babalakin(SAN) as the chairman of the renegotiation committee. We could not conclude because Babalakin left.

“A new committee headed by Munzali came. Munzali finished his work and put in his report at the Federal Ministry of Education.

“All these committees including the  previous Onosode committee,  were all internal committees of the Ministry of Education. They discuss with the unions and give them offers and counter offers vis-a-vis what they have said.

Once the committees finished, their products are sent up.

“The major issue here is salary and wage review. That is where they are before ASUU embarked on strike.”

Ngige explained that once a strike occurs, it triggers the content of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) on how to resolve the industrial action.

He said the Ministry Education was still handling the matter because he transmitted it back to them.

“If a party wants us to transmit a matter back to them to have a second look, you assist them. That is what you call voluntary conciliation.

“It is voluntary because if I apprehend and bring all the parties to the negotiation table and a party requests that I should take the matter to NICN, I will do so,” he said.

Earlier in a keynote address, Ngige described the workshop as one of the reforms ongoing in his ministry as hitherto, some arbitrators have not fully understood the tenets of the panel(IAP) and were handicapped in discharging their duties.

He also described arbitration as one of the statutory stages in trade dispute resolution commencing with internal mechanisms where they exist in any organisation, proceeding to mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, with the Appeal Court as the final arbiter.

“In addition to the workshop billed to reform the way and manner of discharging the statutory function of the IAP, the labour laws have been worked on by tripartite body, comprising the government, employers and workers representatives in the form of the two federations of Trade Unions, to take on board the new developments in labour legislations and fill in identified anomalies and lacunae in our current labour laws.

“The bills are at the stage of proceeding to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for further necessary action before going to the National Assembly for consideration.

“The passage of the bills will be the new dawn of labour administration in the country.”

In a welcome address, the Chief Registrar of IAP,  Abduhamid Ibrahim Esq., said the purpose of the workshop was to provide  unique opportunity for members of IAP and its management staff to acquire sound knowledge and experience in modern skills regarding labour disputes prevention and resolution in line with international labour standards.

Ibrahim commended the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment under Ngige for employing the instrumentality of social dialogue and conciliation in resolving most of the labour disputes.

Goodwill messages were delivered at the event by the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, NICN, Honourable Justice Bennedict Kanyip, ILO Country Director for Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra-Leone and Liberia, Venessa Phala, the Director-general of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Wale Oyerinde, the Executive Secretary of Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa, Comrade John Odah, OTUWA) and representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Benson Opia, and Trade Union Congress(TUC).

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