The minister said ASUU wants its members to be paid for the six months they were not at work, and insisted that the Nigerian government would not pay for work not done.
Barring a last-minute change of plan, three of the striking university workers’ unions except for the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may resume within the next one week, Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has hinted.
The three unions that may suspend the more than five-month-old industrial action are the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and other Associated Institutions (NASU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists.
The minister, who spoke with the state house correspondents at the Aso Rock Villa on Thursday while appearing at the weekly press briefing organised by the presidential communication team, said ASUU refused to budge over the “no work, no pay” rule.
Mr Adamu said the union wants its members to be paid for the six months they were not at work, and insisted that the Nigerian government would not pay for work not done.
But earlier on Thursday, ASUU issued a statement detailing reasons for its rejection of the Nigerian government’s proposal and while its members would not suspend the strike.
Meanwhile, earlier on Wednesday, an official of one of the other three unions who does not want to be quoted, had hinted PREMIUM TIMES of the possibility of his union announcing the suspension of the industrial action on Friday.
‘No work, no pay’
Mr Adamu said President Muhammadu Buhari “outrightly rejected the suggestion that the striking lecturers’ salaries in the last six months be paid” when presented to him.
He said: “All contentious issues between the government and ASUU had been settled except the quest for members’ salaries for the period of the strike to be paid, a demand that President Buhari has flatly rejected.”
The minister said the President’s position had been communicated to the lecturers who are being awaited to call off the strike.
He said the President’s position was to curb the excesses of “trade unions that want to be paid for work not done.”
Mr Adamu said within the last six years of the incumbent administration, more than N6 trillion has been expended on the education sector, saying the infrastructure of the existing institutions has been improved with the addition of nine new universities and additional polytechnics and colleges of education.
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The minister also disclosed that the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) proposed by ASUU has outscored the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) already in use by the government but that IPPIS has now also been updated to accommodate payment of those lecturers who may be on sabbatical.
Mr Adamu also debunked the report that UTAS has been approved by the government as the approved payment platform for university lecturers.
He said the government has proposed a new salary structure to the unions, and that SSANU, NASU and NAAT have accepted the proposal in principle “and are now consulting with their members with a view to calling off the strike in the next one week.”
He, however, commended the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) for calling off its own strike.
‘Students should sue ASUU’
The minister also said that it is the responsibility of ASUU to compensate students for the time wasted from the six-month strike “and not the Nigerian government.”
He suggested that the affected students should “take ASUU to court” to claim damages incurred during the period of the industrial action.
He added that the government bears no liability to compensate millions of students grounded for six months over lost time, saying if the students are determined to get compensated, they should take ASUU to court.
The minister said it is important for the public to be aware that “the Federal Government is paying the salaries of every staff in its tertiary institutions, academic and non-academic staff, while these institutions are also in full control of their internally generated revenue (IGR).”
Mr Adamu said: “We are doing everything humanly possible to conclude the negotiations. It is our hope that the outcome of the renegotiations will bring lasting industrial peace to our campuses. In the meantime, I am sure that the current efforts would yield the desired results and return our children back to school.”
In a statement signed by the President, Emmanuel Osodeke, ASUU on Thursday said his union rejected the government’s offer because it did not follow the collective bargaining agreement.
At Tuesday’s meeting, ASUU said the government team presented a Recommended Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS) prepared by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC).
But ASUU said the government did not follow the existing platform for resolving issues such as special Salaries and Conditions of Service of University Staff, insisting that the document presented did not acknowledge the existing University Salary Structure (USS).
He said: “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.
“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 40 years of its introduction into the Nigerian University System.”
ASUU recalled that the government had since 2017, agreed to be guided by certain principles in the course of the negotiations.
The principles according to ASUU include the reversal of the decay in the Nigerian University System, reversal of the brain drain by enhancing the remuneration of academic staff and provision of more funding for the system.
Now, the union accused the government of disregarding that agreement in the drafted Salary Structure by the NSIWC.
“Rejecting a salary package arrived at through collective bargaining is a repudiation of the government’s pronouncements on reversing “brain drain,” it said.
“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,” the union added.
Again, ASUU dismissed the government’s claim of paucity of funds, saying it is unacceptable. “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 also accused the government of using its idea of taxing cell phones and communication without acknowledging the union or using the funds for ASUU’s demands.
ASUU said: “One of such recommendations is the tax on cell phones 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”
“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.”
While appearing earlier on the Twitter Spaces organised by PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, the ASUU President insisted that the strike would continue as long as the government does not dance to his union’s tunes.
He said the union would not buy the argument that Nigeria does not have money and insisted that the strike would continue.