By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THE meeting between the Federal Government Negotiation Team and striking non teaching staff in the universities was inconclusive last night but with some agreements reached between the two parties.
Though the Federal Government team led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige had agreed to the 12 points demand of the three non academic staff unions of universities, the unions declined to sign agreement with the Federal Government at the end of the meeting that lasted for nine hours.
Reading some of the decisions reached at the meeting, Senator Ngige who was flanked by the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Prof. Stephen Ocheni stated that the Federal Government has approved the payment of N23 billion for Earned Allowances for Academic and Non Academic Staff of the universities during the negotiation with various parties.
Recall that the Joint Action Committee comprised of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Non Academic Staff Union, NASU, and National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, had on Monday, 11th September, 2017, embarked on total and indefinite strike action to demand the implementation of the 12 demands including the 2009, 2012 and 2017 agreements signed by both parties.
President of JAC of the three unions and President of SSANU, Comrade Samson Ugwoke, at the end of the negotiation, disclosed that the Unions did not sign any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or agreement with the Federal Government negotiation team because they have to take whatever agreements reached to their various National Executive Council, NEC for ratification.
He said the Unions lacked the power to endorse the document at the venue of the negotiation but would require the approval of various Unions’ NEC and reverts to government on Wednesday, 20th September, 2017.
Ugwoke noted that government’s negotiation team promised that certain amount will be paid to the purse of federal universities for onward disbursement to their members.
While describing the Minister as honest, sincere and willing to ensure that the strike was called off, he expressed the readiness of the striking workers to return to their duty posts as soon as all the conditions are met.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government through Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment had threatened to invoke Section 43 of the Trade Union Act which stipulates ‘No work no pay’ law, if members of the three non-academic staff unions of Federal Universities fail to resume work immediately.
The Minister explained that the parties agreed that Federal Ministry of Education should probe the alleged multiple accounts of some federal universities, protect whistle blowers and intensify anti-corruption crusade to within the university system.
He added that the parties also reached compromise on the release of revitalization fund for federal Universities in September and October 2017, while Federal Ministry of Education is to release the certificate for the registration of NUMPENCO within one week of fulfilling all the conditions of registration.
He urged the Wale Babalakin’ Committee to fast track the negotiation process with various Unions within the University system.
According to him, National University Commission, NUC, had been directed to ensure the implementation of the National Industrial Court (NIC) on the Staff Schools within four weeks.
In his opening remarks before the closed-door meeting, Senator Ngige, had frowned at the threat notice issued by the Unions for failing to adhere to the Industrial Relations Act.
The meeting which started about 1:30pm was stalled for about two hours due to power outage, but at the verge of postponing the meeting to Friday, electricity was restored at about 6:30pm.
He had told the unions, “You people are in a critical and important sector that is why your salary was removed from the normal salary scheme and a CONTISS was crested for you.
“Issues of Earned Allowances, inadequate infrastructure, shortfall in payment of salaries, registration of NUMPENCO (Nigerian Universities Pension Company) and these matters are already on the table and we have gone very far. As a matter of fact, we have started some implementation. I want to reiterate that the unions should operate within the ambit of the law.
As enshrined in the constitution, the security and the welfare of citizens are the cardinal objectives of any government. No government will go out and start maltreating her people, the laws are for the big and the small, for the high, mighty and the lowly, it is for everybody.
On his part, the National President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who commended the Minister for conveying the conciliatory meeting, noted that trade union disputes should be resolved at the round table through processes of collective bargaining.
Wabba said, “importantly we should look at those areas that implementation has become problematic and sees how to strengthen the collective bargaining agreement with the whole idea…”
Comrade Samson Ugwoke, SSANU President noted that union issued a 35 day notice to Federal Government in January, 2017, after which government called for negotiation.
Ugwoke who lamented the plight of thousands of workers employed in the Staff Schools, who have been out of job for four years without pay.