The federal government has urged the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), who have declared a strike action to give it three months to resolve their grievance over the minimum wage.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja on Friday to brief him on strike threatened by the unions, told correspondents that the workers were inadvertently left out from the minimum wage consequential adjustments recently implemented in the country, which has become part of the grievances of the workers.
He pointed out that the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, is currently on leave, saying that as soon as she returns, the issue will be settled.
Ngige warned that it will be illegal for the unions to go on strike, noting that doing so will negative the International Labour Organization (ILO) statutes.
He also said even though the government will not like to go into whether it will enforce the no work no pay rule or not if the workers insist on the strike, he warned that government has the right explore options available to it.
He 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, 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.”
On the meeting with the president, the minister revealed that he discussed labour related matters especially the threat by the University workers to embark on strike.
He said that the government has “apprehended” the strike by engaging on social dialogue with the unions.
The minister stated: “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, the 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.”
On the workers, demand for the removal of the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, the minister said even though he has attained the mandatory retirement age, the President Buhari reappointed into the position in 2019 relying of constitutional provisions
Ngige explained: “There are other issues all related to labour again which I have to seek further information from Mr President like the reappointment of the Accountant General of the Federation, which the Trade Union Congress and the affiliate, Association of Senior Civil Servants have drawn our attention to the fact that having clocked 60 years, that the man should exit.
“We have had two meetings on that and I have educated them that the 1999 Constitution, the supreme law of the land is the grand norm. All other laws rose from it and any law that is in conflict with the provisions of the constitution doesn’t stand, it’s struck down.
Therefore, Mr President has exercised his powers under Section 171 of the 1999 Constitution as amended in reappointing Mr Ahmed Idris with effect from June 25, 2019, not even today. So, the man has a tenure of four years which by terms of appointment elapse June 2023.”