Varsity unions vow to continue nationwide strike

The Joint Action Committee, the umbrella body for the striking non-teaching workers in Nigerian universities, said on Saturday that it had written fresh letters to the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour, notifying the Federal Government of its resolve not to suspend its 75-day strike unless its agitations were met.

The JAC President, Samson Ugwuoke, who confirmed this on Saturday, noted that the letters were dispatched to the ministries on Friday.

He explained that since February 2 when the unions met with the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, the government had yet to invite the unions for any negotiation.

It was learnt that apart from the February 2 meeting, which ended in a deadlock, the union leaders could also not meet with the Ministry of Labour on February 7 as the negotiation was postponed due to undisclosed reasons by the ministry officials.

The JAC comprises the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, the National Association of Academic Technologists and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities.

It said on Saturday that it was heading for the court on Monday (tomorrow) to sue the police and the Department of State Services for alleged harassment of its union leaders in Enugu and Lagos states.

The non-academic staff, under the JAC, began an indefinite strike on December 4, 2017, due to the alleged non-implementation of the agreements they entered into with the Federal Government in 2009 and 2017.

It was learnt that the contentious issues are the earned allowances of N23bn released by the Federal Government to the universities’ workers around November 2017 in which the three non-teaching unions got “only 11 per cent.”

The JAC said it was not satisfied with such sharing formula, demanding that the Federal Government release more funds to the unions to cover the allowances.

Another issue is the disagreement on the funding of the over 200 staff schools in universities.

JAC President, Ugwuoke, told one of our correspondents on Saturday that it obtained a judgment from the National Industrial Court, stating that the staff schools must be funded by the government and their staff included on the universities’ payrolls.

He added that another issue was the shortfall in salaries, noting that the unions had resolved not to suspend the strike after two months since “no tangible commitments” had been made by the ministries of education and labour.

Ugokwe stated, “The Ministry of Education invited us on February 2 and we had a meeting with the minister. He explained to us that the government was still making efforts to get the money for the earned allowances. The minister said he accepted that the sharing of the N23bn was wrongly done and he apologised for our being short-changed.

“On the issue of the staff schools in which the National Income and Wages Commission brought out an obnoxious policy, we told them that their policy was not in line with the judgment we got from the National Industrial Court.

“Over 2,000 people are out of job. The court judgment, obtained on December 5, 2016, must be obeyed first before you can then call parties together and try to reach a compromise. But the government is not willing to implement that court judgment which was obtained over one year ago.

“The Ministry of Labour, in its letter to us in the first week of February, said it just heard on the pages of newspapers that we were on strike, after two months that we had written to the ministry in December 2017 that we were going on strike. That is insincerity and irresponsibility on the part of the government.”

He added, “The issue is that the strike goes on as the government has not done anything tangible. We cannot suspend this strike unless the government, represented by the ministries of labour and education, shows commitment. A letter was conveyed to the Minister of Education and the National Universities Commission on Thursday that our strike is ongoing.

“Also, our officials are being harassed daily because of this strike. We are going to sue the police and the DSS and demand damages for the arbitrary arrests of our officers in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and the University of Lagos.

“The universities’ authorities earlier claimed that our officials vandalised property in the campuses, but the claim was found to be false eventually. By Monday, we are taking the security agencies to court.”

Our correspondent learnt that the university unions had directed all its state chapters not to suspend the strike until they got another invitation to negotiate with both the ministries of education and labour.

In her reaction, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Mrs Priscillia Ihuoma, said the government and the unions had been meeting and negotiating and would continue to do so.

“There are no fights. We finished negotiations with them close to a month ago and both parties are in agreement,” she said.

She declined further comments.

In its reaction to the lingering strike, the Nigeria Labour Congress said it was unfortunate that the government had allowed the strike to drag on for so long.

It stated that the needed to negotiate with NASU and reach an agreement as soon as possible.

The NLC Secretary-General, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, said the congress supported the strike by NASU, noting that the onus was on the government to meet the union’s demands and end the strike.

Ozo-Eson added, “We have attended meetings and have written to the government to speedily address the matter. They (NASU) have our full solidarity and support.  The government must engage and resolve this matter as soon as possible.

“They (NASU) are pursuing a cause; they are on strike. They have not called off the strike. The onus is on the government to end the strike. The government needs to find a solution by engaging with the union on an agreement they can implement.”

The Ministry of Labour and Employment spokesman, Samuel Olowookere, did not respond to calls to his telephone on Saturday on the lingering strike

Olowookere had earlier told one of our correspondents that he was driving, asking for some time to respond.

Subsequent calls to his mobile on Saturday rang out.

Meanwhile, as the ongoing strike by the non-teaching university workers enters the third month, the National Association of Nigerian Students said on Saturday that after the expiration of its 14-day ultimatum to the government to resolve the crisis, the students would occupy the streets of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and impede activities.

NANS had, on January 29, issued an ultimatum at a briefing in Abuja that students across the country were ready to mobilise and ground the streets of the FCT.

The ultimatum, however, expired on February 12.

The NANS President, Aruna Kadiri, stated on Saturday that the students’ assembly was on a standby to make good their warning after their 14-day ultimatum to the government expired.

He said, “There are plans on the ground. We are discussing with the government and we are hoping that there will be no need to carry out our plans. But if the strike is not called off, we will meet and take our action. But right now, we are talking with the government and the JAC. – Punch.

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