The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, has said that the Federal Government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), can still settle the issues that led to ongoing industrial action and find a resolution out of court.
Ngige said it was part of his duties to refer the matter to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) after seven months of protracted discussions and negotiations with the union, which failed.
The Minister who said this in Abuja, on Monday, at the public presentation of the NLC at 40 publication, titled, “Contemporary History of Working Class Struggles”, recalled that ASUU was still at the stage negotiation with their employers, the Federal Ministry of Education when they embarked on strike.
He expressed regretted that the ASUU leadership does not even understand the import of negotiation because they lacked the nutrients of labour unionism.
He said: “We have to counsel our brothers on negotiation. No negotiation is forced. You cannot say it is either you give me 200 percent or I will continue my strike. There are laws guiding strike. There are ILO principles on right to strike. Nobody can take it away.
“But, there are things that follow it when you embark on strike as a worker, and they are enshrined in the laws of our land. It is written in Trade Dispute Act. The ILO principles of strike talks about the right of a worker to withdraw services. There is also right to picket. These are things that are done.
“Nigeria is respected in ILO. Some people said Federal Government took ASUU to court. No. I referred the matter after seven months of protracted discussions and negotiations that failed.”
Ngige recalled that he conciliated the dispute twice, first on February 22, one week after the commencement of the strike and some agreements were reached, and he brought everybody back on March 1 for another conciliation.
According to him, the only thing left was going back to the Federal Ministry of Education for the renegotiation of the 2013 agreement.
“Some people are saying 2009 agreement. The 2009 agreement has been renegotiated in 2013/2014 with the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It is an anathema to use 2009 agreement.
“What is left is the renegotiation of their conditions of service, which is their right. It should be done but they are negotiating it under the principle of offer and acceptance, and it broke down irretrievably there at the Federal Ministry of Education. That Kick-started Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act, whereby the Minister of Labour and Employment, whoever it is, if you don’t transmit according to the dictates of Section 17, TDA, 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, you would have failed in your function. Therefore, I had to transmit.”
Ngige, however, said the transmission does not mean that the matter cannot be settled out of court.
He said either of the parties involved, the Federal Ministry of Education and ASUU, could approach the NICN for out of court settlement.
He maintained that Nigeria must be guided by laws and nobody should use the dispute to harangue anybody.
“The pro-chancellors said they want to do counter offer. I told them to do it as quickly as possible. Those are ingredients of labour relations. It is not enough if you misinform your membership. That should be disservice. We should read through things as it is and interpret same way. If I leave them in education, they will stay there two years.”
Regarding the issue of inflation and workers salary, Ngige assured that the Federal Government will adjust workers salaries to meet current realities.
He said although they inserted a provision in the 2019 Minimum Wage Act to review wages either next year or 2024, the Federal Government has started the review with ASUU.
On the 40 years of NLC, Ngige said: “A fool at 40 is a fool forever. A wiseman at 40 is a wise man forever. NLC is a wise man forever.”
The event attracted notable dignitaries including serving and former ministers and former Presidents of NLC, Hassan Sunmonu, and former Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.