The Nation Newspaper
GOING by the words of Labour Minister Senator Chris Ngige, only the National Industrial Court (NIC) can guide the Federal Government on what to do with the withheld eight month salaries of varsity teachers.
The minister, who spoke in Abuja yesterday, said the government was awaiting the NIC decision on whether it should pay the arrears to members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) or not.
But activist lawyer and counsel to ASUU, Femi Falana (SAN), urged President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the payment of the eight salaries to the lecturers who were on strike between February and October.
Ngige said: “The matter is in court. We are waiting for the court to call us back. It is part of the substantive issues remitted to the court for pronouncement; whether they can be paid that (eight months withheld salary arrears) or not.
“The court has not called us. It is when the court calls us and we appear that the issue of out of court settlement or alternative dispute resolution will arise.”
According to the minister, he has not met with the leadership of ASUU since the matter was referred to the NIC.
“Only the court can direct resumption of negotiation with the leadership of ASUU,” Dr. Ngige said.
He also said that ASUU members dragged his ministry to court over the registration of the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA).
The minister also revealed that ASUU leadership dragged him and the Registrar of Trade Unions before the NIC over moves to withdraw the registration certificate issued the union for failing to submit its audited accounts since 2013.
He added that these two issues were before the NIC for adjudication.
The minister said: “I have not met with the leadership of the union. It is the court that will direct me to go back and resume negotiation with the union. That is why I told the Speaker of the House of Representatives that I cannot come there to do any negotiation at the National Assembly.
“It will be a neglect of the court ruling. Our people have filed all the issues and we are waiting. Two matters are in court: the registration of CONUA and NAMDA. They took me to court. We have also filed our defence and counterclaim.
“The other matter before the court is the non-rendition of ASUU’s audited account since 2013 to date. The Registrar of Trade Unions wrote them in 2020 and they didn’t render any account that 2020.
“I wrote to them (ASUU) in 2022 and asked them to show cause why a proof of Section 15 of Trade Union Act should not merit them the withdrawal of their certificate or cancellation of their certificate of registration as a trade union.
“ASUU ran to court and asked the court to restraint the Registrar of Trade Unions and Minister of Labour and Employment from ever doing that (withdrawing their certificate of registration).”
After suspending its eight-month old strike on October 14, the government last week Thursday alleged paid the university lecturers half salary for the month of October, a development that triggered fresh anxieties over ASUU’s suspended strike.
But in a statement by the Head, Press and Public Relations of the Ministry of Labou and Productivity, Mr. Olajide Oshundun, the government debunked the claim that the government paid half salaries.
He said the lecturers were paid their salaries pro-rata.
The statement reads: “Following the ruling of the Court of Appeal, which upheld the order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), asking ASUU to go back to work, the leadership of the union wrote to the minister, informing him that they have suspended the strike.
The Federal Ministry of Education wrote to him in a similar vein and our labour inspectors in various states also confirmed that they have resumed work.
“So, the minister wrote to the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, directing that their salaries be restored.
“They were paid in pro-rata to the number of days that they worked in October, counting from the day that they suspended their industrial action. Pro-rata was done because you cannot pay them for work not done. Everybody’s hands are tied.”
Ngige told The Nation that the lecturers were paid for working for 15 days.
It was learnt last night that the leadership of ASUU will meet this week and decide on the next line of action.
Reacting to the development, Falana described the federal government on the matter as “factually faulty and legally misleading”.
He argued that since Buhari overruled the no-work-no-pay principle invoked on members of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), it is logical to do the same for ASUU.
Falana urged the President to ignore the Labour minister’s advice and pay ASUU members their full salaries.
The senior advocate said: “The position of the federal government is factually faulty and legally misleading. Since the industrial action was called off, the public universities have adjusted their calendars to ensure that the 2021/2022 academic session is not cancelled. Consequently, students are currently taking lectures or writing examinations that were disrupted during the strike of the ASUU.
“Therefore, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the ASUU strike the doctrine of ‘no work, no pay’ is totally inapplicable as students who were not taught during the strike are currently attending lectures and writing examinations.
“Furthermore, it is public knowledge that the members of NARD embarked on a strike that lasted two months last year. The federal government dragged the striking doctors to the national industrial court which ordered the NARD to call off the strike.
“As soon as the strike was called off, President Muhammadu Buhari jettisoned the ‘no work, no pay’ principle and ordered the payment of the salaries for the two months that the strike lasted.
“On that occasion, the President overruled Dr. Ngige in the interest of industrial harmony in the health sector.
“In the same vein, the ASUU recently called off its eight-month old strike in compliance with the order of the national industrial court and the court of appeal. We are therefore compelled to call on President Buhari should ignore the advice of Dr. Ngige and direct the public universities to pay the full salary of each lecturer from February to October 2022.”
CONUA demands payment
The CONUA has also asked the Federal Government to pay the withheld salaries of its members.
In a statement by its President, Dr. ‘Niyi Sunmonu, CONUA said its members did not join the strike called by ASUU.
The statement reads: “Congress of University Academics (CONUA) hereby calls on the Federal Government to, without delay, pay members of the union’s withheld salaries.
“As a union, we have stated several times that we were not part of the strike declared by the ASUU. We first made this fact clear in a letter we addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment in April 2022. And, at a press conference we addressed in Abuja on August 19, 2022 we also stated categorically that, as a union, we were not on strike, and, this being the case, the issue of ‘no work, no pay’ ought not apply to our members.”
“Given the above, CONUA considers it unfair that the salaries paid to members of the union were done pro-rata. What ought actually to have been done, and which we now call on the government to do, is to pay the backlog of our salaries from March to September (2022), in addition to what was cut off from our October (2022) salaries. We expect the government to act on the demand immediately.”