By Yusuf Alli
President Muhammadu Buhari as waived the ‘no work, no pay’ Trade Act for striking university lecturers to allow peace reign, Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige, said at the weekend. The government released N40 billion for the payment of earned academic allowances for university lecturers and earned allowances for non-academic staff. The government could also release N30 billion revitalization funds to universities by the end of January 2021.
Of the N40 billion, about N10 billion was voted for the payment of earned allowances of members of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SANU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and technologists. Although the non-academic staff have threatened strike over the sharing formula by the National Universities Commission (NUC), the government said when a similar payment was made in 2019, they got N8 billion.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who gave the update in an exclusive chat with correspondents, said the Federal Government has so far kept faith with the agreement between it and ASUU. He said: “We are keeping faith religiously with the implementation of the agreement. In fact, President Muhammadu Buhari has given ASUU members a waiver/ pardon on the “no work, no pay” clause in the nation’s Trade Disputes Act.
“I had to write officially for the presidential waiver on payment of outstanding wages of university lecturers to strengthen our pact and more so we are in a COVID-19 pandemic era. So, for harmony and understanding, we decided on compassionate ground not to invoke Section 43 of the nation’s Trade Disputes Act.”
Section 43 of the Act is in respect to “Special provision with respect to payment of wages during strikes and lock-outs.”
It says: “(1) notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or in any other law:
(a) where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or other remuneration for the period of the strike, and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly; and
(b) where any employer locks out his workers, the workers shall be entitled to wages and any other applicable remuneration for the period of lock-out and the period of the lock-out shall not prejudicially affect any rights of the workers being rights dependent on the continuity of period of employment.
“(2) If any question should arise as to whether there has been a lock-out for the purposes of this section, the question shall on application to the Minister by the workers or their representatives be determined by the Minister whose decision shall be final.”
Ngige said the Federal Government had started paying the outstanding salaries of the lecturers in a “staggered system” because every 31st December of each year, all outstanding recurrent budget (including personnel salaries) is mopped up into the Treasury.
“We paid ASUU members from January to June 2020. The salary arrears outstanding were from July to December and because of mop up into the Treasury, we decided to stagger the payment. So far, we have paid July and August salary arrears in December, we will pay September and October with their January salaries as one tranche in January; and November/ December in February alongside their monthly salaries since they have resumed in their offices and research centres.”
The Minister also confirmed that about “N40 billion has been paid as earned allowances to academic and non-academic staff in the universities. “The non-academic staff said they disagreed with the way the National Universities Commission (NUC) shared and transmitted the earned allowances by giving 75% to academic staff (lecturers) and 25% to them.
“The NUC came up with that sharing formula based on the past threshold. This administration has even improved the benchmark for the non-academic staff because the last time we had a similar challenge, it was based on 80% for academic staff and 20% for non-academic staff. In 2019, the non-academic staff got N8billion as earned allowances but this time around, the government released N10billion for their allowances.”
Notwithstanding, the Minister said: “I will invite the leaders of SSANU, NASU and technologists for dialogue to arrest their strike.
“I believe if we sit down with them for consultations, they will appreciate our position. We cannot afford to shut down our universities again. Their letter or notice of strike has not reached my table but we will engage them in dialogue on all their demands. Fortunately, I am one of the parents affected by strike action in universities. All my children are studying in different universities in the country.”
Regarding the N30billion revitalization funds demanded by ASUU, Ngige said: “by the end of January, the government will pay.”