November 17, 2022

Will salary issue force university workers into another strike?

By Adesina Wahab

WHEN public universities that were closed for eight months were opened for academic activities few weeks ago, students and their parents heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that soon, students would be through with their studies.

However, things don’t seem to be going the right way because of the uproar that greeted the payment of the salaries of the various categories of workers in the university sector last month. Firing the first salvo were the members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Allied Institutions, NASU. 

The two unions, operating under the auspices of the Joint Action Committee, JAC, held a meeting where they expressed disgust at the decision of the Federal Government to invoke the ‘no work, no pay’ rule in dealing with them. Recall that the workers had gone on strike in March this year, a month after the academic staff started their own. Their strike lasted five months after which they suspended it .

Surprisingly, despite resuming duties two months before the academic staff did, they were not paid until their October salary was paid. The workers had thought that the remaining salaries would be paid in tranches as they were made to believe. But that was not the case. The development led their leaders, Mohammed Ibrahim of SSANU and Peter Adeyemi of NASU, to sign a communique at the end of their meeting calling on the FG to pay them their outstanding salaries. They noted that withholding their dues was unacceptable to them. 

For the academic staff in the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the Congress of University Academics, CONUA and the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, MDCAN, the situation is almost the same. Academic staff, especially those in ASUU, were stunned early in the month when they heard that MDCAN members in the Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto, were paid backlog of their salaries. ASUU promptly decried the situation and said it would appraise the whole situation at its National Executive Council, NEC, meeting that held few days after . The Ministry of Labor and Employment came out to defend the payment, saying there was evidence that the workers were not on strike and actually worked during the period in question. 

The National President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, said on the issue, “I am aware of what is going on. The minister just wanted to create more problem and Nigerians should take note. They are pushing   us again to the point of taking drastic action. We have not been paid for eight months and we have resumed for about a month now. Those who impressed it upon us to suspend the strike should take note also “ 

Half salary issue 

ASUU while reacting to the payment of half salary noted in a statement titled, “We are intellectuals, not casual workers”, that   paying academics on “pro-rata” basis, like casual workers, was unprecedented in the history of university oriented labor relations and therefore condemned the attempt to reduce Nigerian scholars to casual workers in its entirety. The statement read, “The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) suspended its eight months strike on 14th October, 2022, in obedience to the order of the National Industrial Court and in further consideration of intervention efforts of well-meaning Nigerians, including the Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. 

“The action of the union was a display of manifest trust in the judiciary and other institutions and organs of government to always put national interest above all other considerations. This we believe, as a union of thinkers, intellectuals, and patriots, will not only aid the process of amicable resolution of the crisis, but will also set the tone for smooth industrial relations between government and Nigerian workers at large. Unfortunately, the response of government towards ASUU’s demonstration of trust was the so-called ‘pro-rata’ payment for eighteen days as the October 2022 salaries of academics thereby portraying them as daily paid workers!  This is not only an aberration, but a contravention of all known rules of engagement in any contract of employment for academics the world over. 

“At an emergency meeting of the ASUU’s National Executive Committee (NEC), held on Monday, 7th November, 2022, the Union deliberated on developments since the suspension of the strike.  NEC noted with dismay that paying academics on “pro-rata” basis, like casual workers, is unprecedented in the history of university oriented labor relations and therefore condemned this attempt to reduce Nigerian scholars to casual workers in its entirety.” 

FG should do the right thing – NANS

  The South -West Coordinator, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, Comrade Adegboyega Olatunji, said,.” Our plea is that the government should do the right thing. We don’t want a situation that students would be sent home again. We have lost enough time. The government should pay their salaries and do so without further delay or playing games.”

Similarly, the National President of the National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria, NAPTAN, Alhaji Haruna Danjuma, also opined that since the lecturers have started to make up for the lost time by continuing the 2021/2022 session, they should be paid.

“Yes, some time has been lost but since the lecturers have been working to make up for the lost period, then they should be paid. We must avoid anything that can lead to academic activities been disrupted again. We cannot afford the vicious cycle of strike to continue,” he said. 

Protest rally

Now, ASUU has directed its members to hold a day protest rally across all campuses and such a day would be lecture free. Each branch of the union would decide on which day to hold the rally. The University of Lagos branch held its own on Tuesday during which various leaders and stakeholders in the sector called on the government not to push the lecturers to the wall .  CONUA is expected to discuss the issue at its maiden NEC meeting later in the month.

Though there exist difference among the various unions, whether academic or non-academic, on how demands can be pushed without going on strike, the issue of salary appears to be uniting them. If the FG fails to address the ‘no work, no pay’ policy while paying this month’s salaries of the workers, another industrial unrest may occur in the public university system.