Six months into strike: ASUU adamant, rejects ‘miserly’ FG’s new salary offer




The simmering feud between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the federal government appears to be far from being over as the latter insisted it won’t pay the university teachers for the period they were on strike.

ASUU commenced a 30-day warning strike February 14 over the federal government’s failure to honour the agreement signed by both parties.

Among others, the union demanded a review of the lecturers’ condition of service every five years, revitalisation of public universities, and adoption of University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as an alternative to the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS) for payment of members’ salaries, among others.

Update

But the government said its ‘no-work, no-pay policy’ remains the only barrier to the ongoing negotiation between the two parties.

The parties met Tuesday at the end of which ASUU President Professor Emmanuel Osodeke said the government agreed to adopt the University Transparency Accountability Solution (UTAS) as the payment platform of lecturers and consequently suspend the strike.

But the agreement was far from being sufficient to call off the industrial action as the federal government vowed not to pay the salaries for the period the varsity teachers were on strike.   

Minister of Education Adamu Adamu said this Thursday during the 47th State House Ministerial Media Briefing organised by the presidential communications team.

He also said there was never a time President Muhammadu Buhari directed him to end the ongoing strike in two weeks.

Rather, the minister said, the president told him to resolve the impasse within the shortest possible time, contrary to what his labour counterpart, Dr. Chris Ngige, told journalists.

Adamu said: “All contentious issues between the government and ASUU had been settled except the quest for members’ salaries for the period of strike to be paid, a demand that Buhari has flatly rejected.”

He expressed displeasure at the union’s decision to go on strike despite the N2.5 trillion invested in the education sector by the Buhari administration, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund)) and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).

The minister also said while ASUU’s return to work was still not clear, hopefully, all other unions like the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SANNU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) would resume work in the next one week.

He said the government turned down ASUU’s request for payment of the unpaid wages for the previous five months because it felt there should be consequences for their behaviour.

The minister said the discussions on when to end the strike were still taking place among ASUU members.

The minister also faulted figures by UNICEF as well as the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs pegging the number of out-of-school children at 10.5 million.

He said the figure had since 2020 declined to 6.9 million, noting that the government had recorded impressive enrollment in the last year, particularly in frontline states such as Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Taraba, Rivers, and Ebonyi states.

Education sector

On education sector, Adamu said N6 trillion was spent on the provision of infrastructure and Information Communication Technology equipment to public institutions of learning.

“The implementation of the sector’s blueprint is on course. In the last seven years we have undertaken massive physical development of infrastructure, ICT development at all levels of our educational system, established new institutions, improved the carrying capacity of our institutions and expanded access to quality education at all levels.

“Steps are also being taken to accelerate the implementation of the 2020 presidential approval for the revitalisation of the teaching profession. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has expended a total of N6, 300, 947, 848, 237 on capital and recurrent expenditure in the education sector in the last seven years,” he said.

The minister appreciated the support schools at all levels were receiving from state governments and the private sector.

He said the federal government would continue to improve on the implementation of its strategic plans as well as create the necessary environment for the overall development of the education sector in Nigeria.

Adamu said the 36 states of the federation can now boast of at least a federal university and polytechnic in each of them.

“This administration has ensured that all States of the Federation now have a federal university and a federal polytechnic, with nine Universities, nine Polytechnics and six Colleges of Education established between 2018 and today and this administration is determined to ensure that they take off very well that is why providence has been made for all of them,” he said

The minister said basic and secondary level of education also received attention from the present administration with about N553 billion expenditure.

“When we look at basic and secondary education, the ministry has invested heavily in the construction, renovation and rehabilitation of classrooms, hostels and laboratories as well as some other issues like security and other infrastructural facilities at the basic and secondary levels.

“In the last seven years, a total of N553, 134, 967, 498.50 had gone into the development of infrastructure at basic and secondary school levels,” he said.

According to him, the emergence of COVID-19 affected the timing of final examinations for secondary school leavers but everything will go back to normal from next year.

ASUU’S position

Explaining the university teachers’ position on the stalemate Thursday, ASUU said its meeting with the Professor Nimi Briggs-led committee renegotiating the 2009 agreements with university unions ended without any agreement reached, even as it described the government’s offer as miserly.

They said the meeting ended in deadlock because the committee presented “award of a Recommended Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS), prepared by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission” to them.

The union said the ‘award salary’ was “against the principle of collective bargaining based on the Wages Boards and Industrial Council’s Decree No 1 of 1973, the Trade Dispute Act (1976), ILO Conventions 49 (1948), 91(1950), 154 (1988) and recommendation 153 (1981), Udoji Commission Report of 1974, and Cookey Commission Report of 1981.”

According to ASSU, the report “also provided a platform for resolving such important issues as special Salaries and Conditions of Service of University Staff, University Funding, roles of Pro Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors, and National Universities Commission (NUC). A key outcome was a special salary scale for university staff known as University Salary Structure (USS).”

In a statement Thursday in Abuja, ASUU President Professor Sodeke accused the federal government of not ready for the return  of peace to the varsities.

“The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Education, should return to the New Draft Agreement of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Renegotiation Committee whose work spanned a total of five and half years as a demonstration of good faith,” it said.

They said the “award” presented by the Briggs-led team came across in a manner of take-it-or-leave-it on a sheet of paper,” stressing that “no serious country in the world treats their scholars this way.”

The statement titled: “Why ASUU Rejects Government’s Award of Salary,” the union alleged “government imposed the ongoing strike action on ASUU and it has encouraged it to linger because of its provocative indifference.”

“The Munzali Jibril-led renegotiation committee submitted the first Draft Agreement in May 2021 but the government’s official response did not come until about one year later! Again, the “Award” presented by the Nimi Briggs-led Team came across in a manner of take-it-or-leave-it on a sheet of paper. No serious country in the world treats their scholars this way.

“Over the years, particularly since 1992, the Union has always argued for and negotiated a separate salary structure for academics for obvious reasons.

“ASUU does not accept any awarded salary as was the case in the administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The separate salary structures in all FGN/ASUU Agreements were usually the outcome of Collective Bargaining processes.

“The major reason given by the Federal Government for the miserly offer, paucity of revenue, is not tenable. This is because of several reasons, chief of which is poor management of the economy. This has given rise to leakages in the revenue of governments at all levels.

“There is wasteful spending, misappropriation of funds and outright stealing of our collective patrimony.

“ASUU believes that if the leakages in the management of the country’s resources are stopped, there will be more than enough to meet the nation’s revenue and expenditure targets without borrowing and plunging the country into a debt crisis as is the case now.

“At the commencement of the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement on 16th March 2017, both the Federal Government and ASUU Teams agreed to be guided by” some terms of reference, ASUU, however, expressed regret that the former reneged on its side to abide by the agreement,” the statement said.

They further argued:  “Government’s surreptitious move to set aside the principle of collective bargaining, which is globally in practice, has the potential of damaging lecturers’ psyche and destroying commitment to the university system. This is, no doubt, injurious to Nigeria’s aspiration to become an active player in the global knowledge industry.

“At the resumed meeting of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) 2009 Agreement Re-negotiation Committee on Tuesday, 16th August, 2022, the Government Team presented an “Award” of a Recommended Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS) prepared by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to ASUU. ASUU firmly rejected and still rejects the ‘Award.’

“The 1981 FGN-ASUU Agreement, under Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s administration, established the principle of collective bargaining, based on the Wages Boards and Industrial Council’s Decree No 1 of 1973, the Trade Dispute Act (1976), ILO Conventions 49 (1948), 91(1950), 154 (1988) and recommendation 153 (1981), Udoji Commission Report of 1974, and Cookey Commission Report of 1981.

“It also provided a platform for resolving such important issues as special Salaries and Conditions of Service of University Staff, University Funding, roles of Pro Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors, and National Universities Commission (NUC). A key outcome was a special salary scale for university staff known as University Salary Structure (USS).

“At the commencement of the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement on 16th March 2017, both the Federal Government and ASUU Teams agreed to be guided by the following principles as their terms of reference:

(1) Reversal of the decay in the Nigerian University System, in order to reposition it for its responsibilities in national development;

(ii) Reversal of the brain drain, not only by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff, but also by disengaging them from the encumbrances of a unified civil service wage structure; (iii) Restoration of Nigerian Universities, through immediate, massive and sustained financial intervention; and

(iv) Ensuring genuine university autonomy and academic freedom.

“Government’s surreptitious move to set aside the principle of collective bargaining, which is globally in practice, has the potential of damaging lecturers’ psyche and destroying commitment to the university system. This is, no doubt, injurious to Nigeria’s aspiration to become an active player in the global knowledge industry.

“Rejecting a salary package arrived at through collective bargaining is a repudiation of the government’s pronouncements on reversing “brain drain”. It is common knowledge that, more now than in the 1980s and 1990s, Nigerian scholars, especially in scarce areas like science and medicine, are migrating in droves to Europe, America and many parts of Africa such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Ghana with supportive environment to ply their trades as well as competitive reward systems for intellectual efforts. Does the Nigerian government care about what becomes of public universities in another five or ten years if this trend continues?

“FGN’s repudiation of collective bargaining is in bad faith. It is a retrogressive step for a democratic government to abrogate the collective bargaining principle after more than forty years of its introduction into the Nigerian University System. The ILO’s Policy Guide on Collective Bargaining stipulates that “The principle of negotiation in good faith takes the form in practice of various obligations on the parties involved, namely:

(i) Recognising representative organizations; (ii) endeavouring to reach agreement;

(iii) Engaging in real and constructive negotiations;

(iv) avoiding unjustified delays in negotiation; and (v) mutually respecting the commitments made and the results achieved through bargaining” (ILO 2015, p. 14). Hence it could be safely concluded that FGN’s renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement with ASUU between March 2017 and June 2022 has been done in bad faith.

“Government imposed the ongoing strike action on ASUU and it has encouraged it to linger because of its provocative indifference. The Munzali Jibril-led renegotiation committee submitted the first Draft Agreement in May 2021 but the government’s official response did not come until about one year later! Again, the “Award” presented by the Nimi Briggs-led Team came across in a manner of take-it-or-leave-it on a sheet of paper. No serious country in the world treats their scholars this way.

“Over the years, particularly since 1992, the Union has always argued for and negotiated a separate salary structure for academics for obvious reasons. ASUU does not accept any awarded salary as was the case in the administration of General Abdulsalam Abubakar. The separate salary structures in all FGN/ASUU Agreements were usually the outcome of Collective Bargaining processes.

“The major reason given by the Federal Government for the miserly offer, paucity of revenue, is not tenable. This is because of several reasons, chief of which is poor management of the economy. This has given rise to leakages in the revenue of governments at all levels.

“There is wasteful spending, misappropriation of funds and outright stealing of our collective patrimony.

“ASUU believes that if the leakages in the management of the country’s resources are stopped, there will be more than enough to meet the nation’s revenue and expenditure targets without borrowing and plunging the country into a debt crisis as is the case now.

“The New Draft Agreement has other major recommendations for the funding of major components of the renegotiated 2009 FGN/ASUU Agreement. One of such recommendations is the tax on cell phone and communication lines. Ironically, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning recently announced its readiness to implement ASUU’s recommendation, as a revenue source, but not for education, without acknowledging the Union!

“Our prayer: Where there is will, there will be way. The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Education, should return to the New Draft Agreement of the 2009 FGN/ASUU Renegotiation Committee whose work spanned a total of five and half years as a demonstration of good faith.”

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