The Federal Government has threatened to stop the salaries of non-teaching workers of universities for embarking on an indefinite strike.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen Chris Ngige noted that Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act 2004 and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) statutes permit the government to stop the salaries of workers when they are on strike.
He warned that the government would not hesitate to invoke the laws if the unions fail to observe the rules guiding social dialogue.
Ngige said that the ongoing strike by the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Allied Institutions (NASU), contravened Nigeria’s labour laws and the statutes of ILO.
The Minister noted that declaration of strike during negotiation was an act of intimidation, not allowed in labour negotiations, as doing so employees are tying the hands of the employers to the back.
He said these in his opening remarks during a social dialogue between the unions and the Federal Government on Thursday.
The Joint Action Committee of SSANU and NASU commenced an indefinite strike on February 5, 2021 over the failure of the Federal government to resolve issues in the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System and disparity in the sharing of the N40 billion Earned Allowances, among others.
Ngige said it was wrong for the unions to proceed on full blown strike when the government had already apprehended it according to sections 7 and 8 of the Trade Dispute Act.
He recalled that SSANU and NASU issued Trade Dispute Notice (TD3) to the government under the umbrella of Joint Action Committee (JAC) and government called them and started discussion on Tuesday February 2.
The Minister said after extensive discussions on two out of the seven issues in dispute, the unions requested for adjournment to confer with their members, only to proceed on full blown indefinite strike while negotiations had commenced.
He said: “You asked for an adjournment, we gave an adjournment and you used the period of adjournment to go on full blown strike. That is not right. It is not social dialoguing.
“It is against ILO statutes. The ILO statute says you have a right to go on strike and your employer has a right not to pay you and use the same money to keep the enterprise going.
“A lot of water went under the ground and I asked our ministry to write you officially and let you know that what you did is not in conformity with the Trade Dispute norms and as in our labour laws. You have replied too and the Permanent Secretary has brought to my attention your reply and I am not very happy about it.
“Example of why I am not happy is that you were given instances that ASUU while on this table, declared strike. You don’t use a bad example to showcase what is the norm.
“Why should you as a union that is labour friendly and has experienced people in trade dispute management, toe that line?
“You want me to start applying to Mr. President for a compassionate waiver against Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act. That is not fair.
“We are permitted by Law to stop payment of wages during the period of strike. It is in the labour laws. I didn’t make the law and President Buhari didn’t make the law. These are laws we made here in 2004, ‘the Trade Dispute act’.
“That is why I am insistent that no matter what happens today, I must do this conciliation with you. But if you opt out, there are options left for me. I can transfer this conciliation.
“There are levels. I can transfer to National Industrial Court suo moto (direct) or Industrial Arbitration Panel. That is the second level.
“But if you come here for conciliation, don’t take me for a ride. Don’t take the conciliator for a ride at any level because we don’t have judicial powers like IAP or NIC. But this is our first level of conciliation and the rules of conciliation must be observed by all. The rule must be observed by all and that rule is that if there is an apprehension following your notice, you finish the discussion.
“At our last meeting we had a 7-point agenda, we discussed two of them and you asked for an adjournment to come back to negotiation table.
“That adjournment is not a period for you to go on strike. I want us to finish the rest if you wish. If don’t wish, then I refer you to IAP or NIC. When you finish, the judgment will be transmitted for me for execution.”
General Secretary of NASU, Peter Adeyemi, said that the unions repose their confidence in him.
Adeyemi said the unions have supported the government and they should not be compensated with the denial of the rights of their members.
“How do you explain that you gave N40 billion to a sector and N10 billion was given to three unions. You cannot beat us and tell us not to cry,” he told the Minister.