National vice chairman (North West) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Salihu Moh Lukman, has urged the federal government to convert the seven-month arrears of university lecturers to scholarship and compensation for students for the time lost out of school.
Lukman’s call followed the order issued by Justice Polycap Hamman of the National Industrial Court (NIC), asking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to call off their seven-month strike and return to classrooms.
In a statement he issued on Wednesday in Abuja, Lukman noted that court verdict had vindicated his position last year when national leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) organised a one-week warning strike against Kaduna State government in solidarity with resident doctors when the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) were also on strike at the time.
He recalled that he had said, “The debate about whether government should pay ASUU members for the seven months they are on strike should be treated based on the provisions of their employment contract. Anything to the contrary will amount to encouraging ASUU, and by extension other unions to engage processes of collective bargaining based on blackmail antics and show of crude power.
“This must be discouraged. If government will at all consider any payment, it should be to compute what ASUU members could have earned during the period and pay it to students as scholarship or some sorts of compensation for the ‘irreparable damages to their careers’ occasioned by the strike. In fact, ASUU members should voluntarily and willingly accept this as part of the discharge of their community service function.”
The former director general of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) urged the ministry of Labour and Employment not to abdicate from its responsibility henceforth.
Lukman regretted that Labour ministry did act early enough to secure the judgement by either Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) and NIC, which he said would have been obtained before the commencement of the strike.
He stated: “Sadly, here we are; the same judgement that would have been delivered before the strike commences on February 14 is only obtained about seven months into the strike.
“Better late than never. However, the demand must be made clearly, never again should Ministry of Labour abdicate from its responsibility of arresting strikes based on ability to activate processes of mediation, conciliation and compulsory adjudication. The Ministry of Labour must be reformed to discharge these functions effectively and efficiently.
“Democracy is about rule of law. At all times, laws must be activated to regulate conducts of citizens and government officials. Every step must be taken to enforce the judgement of Justice Polycap Hamman. The last seven months have been traumatic for parents and innocent students. Everything must be done to bring to immediate end the sufferings and hardships being inflicted by the seven months strike.”
The APC NWC member recalled his earlier position during the NLC strike that “provision of dispute settlement is required to go through processes of mediation, conciliation and compulsory adjudication through the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) and National Industrial Court (NIC), the reality is the almost complete absence of any mechanism to negotiate resolution or at the least implement agreement.
“Over the years however, conciliation and mediation, as functions of labour administration, have greatly declined due to lethargic factors largely because of indecisiveness of Ministry of Labour. For instance, the processes for access to both the IAP and NIC, being the two legal bodies with the primary responsibility of dispute settlement that are legally binding are mainly through the Minister of Labour. It is curious to ask, out of all the plethora of industrial disputes leading to strikes, how many have been filed before the IAP and NIC to pre-empt strikes?
“In addition, given that awards by both IAP and NIC are not made directly to the parties but through the Minister, who has the right to refer the parties back to both the IAP and NIC, how many judgements have been obtained and to what extend has the Minister or his representatives taken actions to refer parties back to IAP and NIC to enforce existing judgements and therefore avoid strikes?
Without going into all the legal technicalities, which are the vocation of lawyers, in several cases the Ministry of Labour is laid back and hardly intervene to prevent strikes from taking place through brokering negotiations between workers’ and employers’ organisation until strike commences.”