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The Nigerian Government says it will be illegal if the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) proceeds on strike at midnight on Friday, February 5 when discussions to sort out some of the contentious issues were still ongoing.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige made the remark in an interview with State House Correspondents on Friday.
He is, therefore, pleading with the two unions to give government three months so that it will forward a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to cover arrears of the minimum wage that has not been paid to the aggrieved workers.
Recall that the Joint Action Committee, JAC of SSANU and NASU had given the Federal Government till midnight of February 5 to address about seven points demand they made, saying if the government failed to address the issues, they would embark on an indefinite strike.
During the interview, Ngige disclosed that he met President Buhari to discuss labour related matters especially the threat by the University workers to embark on strike.
He said that the government had “apprehended” the strike by engaging on social dialogue with the unions, adding that it would be an illegality if they should go ahead with the planned strike.
He said, “I was around to see Mr President on so many urgent labour issues. We will not claim ignorance of the fact that three unions in the University system, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, SSANU and the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT had given us notice of strike.
“The first two unions SSANU and NASU did that under the umbrella of Joint Action Committee, JAC, and as government, we have moved to apprehend the strike because we just came out from a strike that lasted for nine months that was executed by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU.
“So in consonance with the labour laws, we have apprehended both strikes. They gave us Trade dispute notice, we scheduled meetings with them after apprehension, we held a meeting with NASU and SSANU last week Tuesday and the government position was explained to them.
“They have a lot of issues mentioned as their grouse, issues like IPPIS. They said IPPIS has amputated some of their allowances, they also have the issue of consequential adjustment that was paid to all civil servants as a result of the new minimum wage of N30,000 for staff above Grade Level One, that is starting from Grade Level two up to level 17.
“Those in the University system have not received their own, that was an inadvertent omission and it was explained to them and even without their prompting, without their trying to go on strike, government on its own has computed the amount involved up to January with effect from 19th April 2019 when the minimum wage took effect to January 2020, that is the allowance or the consequential amount that was missed in the 2020 budget.
“We explained that government plans to put that in the Supplementary budget of 2021 which will be submitted by the National Assembly as soon as the Minister of Finance resumes from vacation. On the issue of IPPIS, we explained to them that it is something that is of general application, a lot of civil servants, public servants had complained that some of their allowances were omitted in the payment of their emoluments.
“IPPIS office explained that it was work in progress, they are putting back those allowances and they showed evidence that they have put back so many. So, these two issues are the cardinal issues in the points they have made.
“So in the main, after conferring with Mr President, we are telling the unions not to carry out the action because that action will run counter to ILO Statute on Social Dialogue and Principles at work because their employers have listened, they have brought them to the table. So for SSANU and NASU, we are imploring them not to carry out their threat which they said will take effect from this midnight.
“Moreso, when the meeting adjourned from their own instance. Just this morning I received a letter from them giving us a new date for the continuation of the dialogue, they proposed a new date of Thursday 11th of February and my office has communicated to them back that we will be ready for them at that time because as they claimed they needed time to consult with their constituency and come back on the fresh issues that have cropped up from the discussion. So I briefed Mr President on that.”
Asked why government waited till the last day to respond to threats by the unions especially as they have decided to embark on strike starting from midnight of February 5, he said it would be illegal for them to go ahead with the strike.
According to him, “It will be preposterous for them to say that as we wait to negotiate further, they are invoking a strike by midnight today, that will be against the labour statute of both the International Labour Organization and the Nigeria Trade Dispute Act and we will frown at it if they ever go that route.”
Also asked if the government would invoke no work no pay policy should the workers go ahead with the strike, the labour Minister said, “I don’t want to go to that area because I presume that good judgment will prevail.
“The leaders of SSANU and NASU are very knowledgeable and very experienced in labour matters. The General Secretary of NASU, Prince Peters Adeyemi and the SSANU President, Comrade Mohammed Haruna Ibrahim, they are experienced labour leaders, they know they will not go that route, they know if they go that route it will be an illegal strike.
“They know that if they go that route, yes they also have a right to strike and the employer also has the right to some relief. They also know that when they go that route it means that they have broken down the negotiation in my place that they are not listening.
“The labour laws also say what I can do if I find that I can’t manage the situation. The law says that I can refer those disputes upwards starting from industrial arbitration panel to the National Industrial Court, so these are the options that are left.
“I am very optimistic that if they give us three months, the Finance Minister will do the needful.”