The labour dispute between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which has resulted in the six-week old strike by the university lecturers took a worse turn yesterday with the Federal Government threatening to invoke its no-work-no-pay policy to force the striking lecturers back to work.
This was made known by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, at a meeting with the chairmen of university governing councils and vice-chancellors on Friday who ordered the striking university lecturers to return to their duty posts while the pending issues were being resolved. He also directed all the governing councils of the various universities to open the gates of the institutions to students as from next week.
The directives followed the inability of both parties (FG and ASUU) to reach a definite agreement on the issue earned allowances to university workers after about two months of dialogue and negotiations and the threat by the union to discontinue talks with government.
The Federal Government also disbursed the N30 billion it provided to support the councils for the payment of academic earned allowances to lecturers, at the meeting.
Anyim said this was in addition to the N100 billion provided by the government to address the challenges of infrastructural deficit in the system.
He said: “Mr. President is fully committed to bringing the students back to school and appreciates the patience of parents and students as government is making every effort to revitalise the university system.
“By this demonstration of clear commitment to revitalise the university system, government hereby urges every (member of) staff of the nation’s universities to return to work as all issues are being resolved.
“With particular reference to the contentious issue of earned allowances, every (member of) staff of the universities that is so entitled should verify his claim with his university council and accordingly get paid,” he said.
SGF said the Earned Allowances was the major issue in dispute, adding that traditionally, universities pay deserving staff but “because of the amount that ASUU now claims as arrears, government decided to assist the university councils to pay.”
He said the Federal Government did not receive any computation of amount involved until February, 2013 and that ASUU demanded for an outrageous sum of N92 billion arrears for three years’ payment based on percentage range of between 15 and 20 of personnel cost.
The Minister of Education, Professor Rugayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, also said that ASUU actually went on strike over the initial offer of five per cent of personnel cost of the entire university staff.
She said that government had addressed all other issues raised by the union for them to call off the strike. She maintained that government had no money to pay the N92 billion academic Earned Allowances requested by ASUU, insisting that it was not feasible in view of the current state of the nation’s economy.
Anyim further said: “After series of discussions involving the National Assembly; the SGF; the Chairman of the Needs Assessment Report Implementation Committee, Governor Gabriel Suswam; the ministers of Education, Labour; and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and other stakeholders, government has now provided N30 billion to support the university councils in settling the Earned Allowances.”
He said all other issues of Consolidated Salary Structure for Academics in Nigerian Universities (CONUASS II), amendment of Pensionable Retirement Age of Academics in the Professorial Cadre to 70 years have been fully implemented.
Anyim said most of the issues contained in the 2009 agreement, which necessitated the current strike, have been fully met, except for the Earned Allowances, which ASUU pegged at N92 billion.
He said, “On July 2nd, 2013, ASUU declared what it called, ‘total and indefinite strike’ over issues it says have remained unresolved pertaining to an agreement it reached with government in 2009. It is pertinent to narrate the genesis of the 2009 agreement. ASUU went on strike action in 2006 based on their request for a review of personnel matters, on account of this, government initiated a Needs Assessment of the University system comprising federal and state universities. The negotiations led to the 2009 agreement.
“Some of the issues which bothered on amendment of pensionable retirement age of academics in the professorial cadre; consolidated peculiar allowances (CONPUAA), exclusively for university teaching staff; National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS); setting up of budget monitoring committee in all public universities have been fully implemented.”
He said the Federal Government had explained why ASUU’s demands concerning the transfer of Federal Government landed property to universities would not be possible to implement.
“Government has been clear that it cannot transfer government’s landed property to ASUU because it has no structure to manage or maintain such property.
Government is, however, willing to support any council that sets up a property company with management structure to compete with others in the industry,” he stated.
In a related development, the Minister of Education, Ruqayyatu Rufa’I, at the event in Abuja, said she expected ASUU to suspend the strike going by the latest action of government.
She said the situation had generated so much anxiety on the part of students, parents and government, and that negotiations on the remaining issues could continue.
“Government is ready to implement all the recommendations, particularly as it relates to revitalisation of the universities system. I want to assure you that this will be done in the next few years.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu; Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, Senator Uche Chukwumerije; and the Chairman, House Committee on Education, Honourable Aminu Suleiman, all attended the meeting.
This comes after ASUU had on Thursday foreclosed further talks with the Federal Government negotiation team, an indication of a total collapse of negotiations.
Meanwhile, efforts to get the reaction of ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge, on the development were unsuccessful as his mobile phone line was ‘unreachable’.