By Linda Musa
There are strong indications that the Federal Government may withdraw the registration of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, as a trade union following its alleged failure to submit its audited reports as required by law in the past five years.
Already, the Registrar of Trade Unions has reportedly written a querry to the union on why its certificate of registration should not be withdrawn for running foul of the law.
This is as university lecturers in the medical field have applied to the Minisrry of Labour and Employment to be registered as a separate trade union under the aegis of Nigerian Association of Medical and Dental Academics, NAMDA.
The group has also said that it did not join the ongoing strike embarked upon by its parent body ASUU, rather, its members were locked out due to the industrial dispute declared by the union.
It said that it would soon start examination for the 500 and 400 levels of medical students, noting that the country has shortage of medical doctors and that it would not be in her interest to lose a year because of any strike.
Speaking while receiving members of NAMDA, who had visited him to express their solidarity with the Federal Government on the ASUU imbloglio, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige acknowledged receiving the group’s request for registration.
The Minister lamented that the university based unions have been in the habit of not obeying the law that sets) them up with regard to the submission of their yearly audited account.
He said that he was constrained to allow the hammer of the law to descend on ASUU because of the prolonged strike as any action taken by the government would be wrongly interpreted.
He maintained that going by the provisions of the law, the leadership of the university based unions that collect check-off dues from their members are mandated to render account on how the money is spent.
Responding to the group’s request to be registered as a trade union, Ngige said, “I am happy today that you people have noticed what is wrong with medical education and decided now to form a single trade union.
“Yes, we have received your application about two or three months ago. Even when NMA had come to make an oral application for you people, I told them that it is not done that way. If you understand what you need, you come to be registered as a trade union. Registration as a trade union has its own rights and privileges.
“The privileges are as follows. As a union, you are enjoying freedom of association as people of like minds. People who have the same profession. People who have the same ideas. People who believe in the furtherance of the production of medical doctors in their country.
“You also have the advantage that as a union, you get check off dues from your members, automatically done at source by the employers in which case now, universities. These are the advantages.
“What are the disadvantages? The disadvantages is that you have to obey our laws. The laws of the land. That is where you elite fail, especially SSANU, NASU, ASUU, NAAT. All of you in the university system. They have not been obeying trade union laws.”
He further said, “ASUU has not responded to the relevant section of Trade Union Creation for submission of audited accounts. How do they utilise their money? The money they collect as check off dues, should be accounted for. So, the Trade Union Act says that in June of any given year, unions should produce audited account at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“The Registrar of Trade Unions has written them to show cause why we should not withdraw their certificate of registration. They have not responded to the letter. Rather, I learned that they came last Friday with bundles of papers and said they are their audited account.
“Of course, he rightly told them that ‘I didn’t ask you for your audited accounts anymore. I need you to respond to my query on why disciplinary action should not be taken against you. If disciplinary action is taken against ASUU now, although I am restraining him, they will say that it is because we are in court. They will say that we are being victimised because we are on strike. We are being punished. Whereas, they have been running foul of the law.
“Five good years, they have not tendered an audited account of their activities, at least, for the benefit of their members. For now, you are their members. They should give you account of how they spent your money. They have not done so.”
Speaking on ASUU strike, he said, “You went on strike. The Minister of Labour brought you here one week after and we discussed seven items one after the other and agreed on five of the items.
“The two items we couldn’t reach agreement are the usage of UTAS; we asked NITDA to go back and test. We met with the traditional rulers, Sultan and NIREC and asked NITDA to give us a report in six weeks.
“We asked them to go to education to negotiate their conditions of service, which is the only thing outstanding in the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement.
“When you say government is not implementing 2009 agreement, it is not true. It was in the renegotiation of 2009 in 2013 that President Jonathan and his team agreed to pay you N1.3 trillion-N220 every year for six years. Maybe because they knew they were going away. But that was what they agreed on.
“By 2019, we had conciliated here again. But, we said this government is unable to meet your demand. What do we do? We structured a payment plan for one single tranche of N220 billion.
“This government started paying. They have paid N50 billion or so. I am not sure but we asked them to go and reconcile the figures from Budget Office and ASUU. When they say 2009 agreement, the public is deceived. It is the 2009 revitalisation of the government of Goodluck Jonathan we couldn’t pay. It is not a wrong thing for government to say it is unable to pay. Let us restructure our debt or our promise to you. It was an agreement. A Collective Bargaining Agreement can be renegotiated anytime. That is where we are.
“Another thing to be renegotiated was their conditions of service, to include salaries of their scale, which is the CONUASS. We remitted that one back to education, their primary employer. Education invited Chairmen of councils, with Prof. Mini Briggs to chair the renegotiation committee.What also will guide that negotiation. It is the availability of the fund and by extension, the ability to pay, which is the ILO principle in wage fixing mechanism.
“It is not enough to say I will give you N1.3 trillion and not pay it. That is why the negotiation went on there and different proposals were made. Those proposals are now the subject of contention. When the committee in education gave them a proposal on what they can pay, they did not do enough consultation with government. They did not consult Minister of Finance. They did not consult Budget Office of the Federation. They did not consult the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission.
“Rather, the officials we sent there were told to leave. And they gave themselves award. They awarded money to themselves. Our Director Trade Union Services was there. She was told to leave. Our labour attache in Education was told to leave. The person in NSIWC was also told to leave. He didn’t even participate. The person from Finance was told to leave and they decided and awarded themselves money. It is not done that way. That is no longer a CBA. Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“Even at that, government said, ‘we need our children to go back to School, let us do a counter offer. They gave them counter offer. It is that counter offer that they called an award and that it is pittance and miserly. The award was for an increase of 23.5 percent across board for everybody in the university system, including SSANU, NASU and NAAT and 35 percent for professors. This is in spite of the fact that in May, consequential adjustment of National Minimum Wage was put in their salaries.
“You had 10 percent rise in salaries and government paid you arrears from May 2019 when the Act was signed by Mr. President. A lot of people got the money even though they were on strike.
“Some others wrote and said it is ammunition to continue strike that they will use it as ammunition to fight government. You are not fighting any government. I am in government but tomorrow, I will leave. I have brothers and sisters who are ASUU members. I have friends.
“My classmates are professors who are teaching. They are ASUU members. So, naturally I want something good for them but they are going about it the wrong way. They want to use intimidation and blackmail but I am telling them no.
“Don’t intimidate your employers. It is not allowed in labour negotiation. Even a strike during negotiation is now an instrument of blackmail and intimidation during negotiation and it is not allowed in wage fixing mechanism. It is in ILO principles at work.
“That is why Section 18 of TDA says if you are on strike or if you have locked out your employers for any reason, once the Minister puts in place, an apprehension mechanism on the dispute, you call it off.”