Another round of strike action is looming in the nation’s Universities as academic staff counts down to the deadline for the implementation of agreements reached with the government which led to the conditional suspension of its indefinite strike action in September.
The government had signed an agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Universities as a result of the strike action embarked upon by the union to press the implementation of the memorandum of understanding entered into between both parties in 2013 as well as the 2009 agreement.
A timeline of October 2017 was reached between the government and the unions for the implementation of some components of the agreement, especially the payment of shortfall in salaries and Earned Academic Allowances.
But some lecturers informed The Nation that barely one week to the end of the October timeline, the government has not implemented any aspect of the agreement, even when they claimed during negotiation that implementation has commenced.
While suspending their strike action in September, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi had said that the union was suspending its action conditionally to pave way for government to commence implementation of the agreement, stressing that the union will not hesitate to resume the action if the government fail to meet its own aspect of the agreement.
One lecturer who would not want his name in print told The Nation that “the government has not done anything. We have not heard from them and it is just one week to the end of the October deadline. I can assure you that we are warming up and there is the possibility that from November 1, we will resume the suspended action.
“They (government) told our leaders during negotiations that they have prepared everything for the implementation. They were even brandishing some papers, especially on the earned Academic Allowance. But we have not seen anything nor heard from them.
“They were also supposed to carry our verification because of those who employed workers without permission so that the issue of shortfall in salary can be addressed. Many of us have been verified, but nothing has happened. We have not been paid. They should not take us die a ride because when we resume the suspension action not are not going to listen to any discussion.
However, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, however, declined to say whether or not the union will call out its members at the end of October if they are not satisfied with the level of implementation of the agreement.
Prof. Ogunyemi told The Nation over the telephone that members of the union will determine the next line of action based on the level of implementation of the agreement reached between the government and the unions.
He said both parties were making progress in the implementation of the memorandum of understating signed between them, adding that the union is still engaging the government and expressed the hope that the government will keep to their promise.
He said: “We are engaging them and we are making some few progress and we hope they will keep their promise. Otherwise, our members are ready to activate their action. We are still in October, but we are on our guard.
We believe they will follow the process through and implement it fully. That is why we still engage them and we are talking. We are working with them and we hope they will continue to cooperate.
Asked whether they will embark on any Industrial action at the end of October, he said “I cannot say whether there will be any action at the end of October or not. It is what our members say that we shall do. I hope I am very clear? Our members shall determine what we shall do at the end of the deadline based on the level, of implementation”.
The government had promised to meet the demand of the unions with a promise to release of about N220 billion to the universities not later than October 2017 to fund the revitalisation of federal universities in the country and the payment of the shortfall in their salaries as well as payment of earned allowances which has accumulated.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige who promised that his Ministry will monitor the implementation the agreement reached had told newsmen after the conciliatory meeting in September that “We have concluded negotiations, the government and the leadership of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU. The ASUU negotiating team and the government discuss salient issues and most of those issues are well-known to the media but for the purposes of clarity, I can go around the grounds again.
“There’s one funding for revitalization of public universities and the issue of Earn Academic Allowances, the issue of University Staff Schools on which that there is a court judgement, the issue of National Universities Pension Management Company, and the issue of salary shortfalls for lecturers and staff of universities. There is the issue of TSA exemption and the problems in the state universities. All are the issues that ASUU felt that government should address.
“Most of these issues stemmed from the 2009 agreement that government had ASUU and also from the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding, that the government had with ASUU. Government is a continuum, most of those issues were not issues that cropped up from the Buhari administration, we inherited them.
“But be that as it may like I said, the government is a continuum. So we are to really address those issues, we inherited them but there are issues concerning the welfare of our people. So, on the issue of funding for the revitalization of public universities, this negotiating team discussed in detail and extensively on that.
“This is the fund that would be needed for the revitalization of public universities in terms of their working tools and other things needed for the effective performance of their duties.
“There was an agreement from the MoU of 2009 and that of 2013, for government to be making some quarterly payments into this fund. And from 2014 to date, it has not been possible for the government to pay or they didn’t pay. But this government has been negotiating with ASUU since last year. Today, there is a government proposal which we all agreed id workable.
“But ASUU has to take back this our proposal to their organs, so we decided that there’s an agreement for government to make some funds available in September and October to show that they are not repudiating their agreement and to also show sign of good faith.
“However, because of the inability of the government to pay the required amount which is at N220 billion, a seven-man committee was proposed and ASUU leadership is expected to send in three nominees into this committee. It’s a technical committee so to say, a working committee and they would send in the three-man nomination, the Minister of Education will appoint three persons to represent the federal government and the chairman, making four to bring the number to seven. ASUU will also send in their proposal for testing terms of reference for the committee to the minister.
“We expect that that will be done today since today is already a Friday. This committee is expected to work out the ways and means for the government and ASUU to actualize the aspirations as per the 2013 MoU.
“This is without prejudice to the Babalakin committee on the re-negotiation of the 2009 MoU between the Federal Government and ASUU.
“On the issue of Earn Academic Allowances, we have listened and payment has started in that direction.Same with staff schools. Government is though not appealing, we have agreed that the decision should be conveyed to the various universities.
“The Issue of NUPENCO was addressed and ways have been fashioned out for the registration of that company. Salary shortfalls for lecturers and university staff were also addressed and the government has shown their commitment and evidence that payments have started in order to liquidate the outstanding allowances.
“The issue of TSA exemption was also discussed and an agreement or proposal was muted by which the Central Bank would a special account for that in order for endowment funds and research grants will be exempted.
“State universities which have been the concern for ASUU and everybody who has been looking for quality education in the country was also discussed and the Minister of Education was mandated to take the memo to the council of state and the Federal Executive Council.
“Based on these discussions, ASUU leadership will consult with its organs and revert back to government within one week. They will consult with their organs with a view to calling off the strike.And we expect them that within one week, they will get back to government. These are the highlights of the meeting and I can tell you that the meeting took place in the very cordial atmosphere.”