BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA
The ruling All Progressives Congress has blamed the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige and his Minister of State, Festus Keyamo, for handling the industrial action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities with levity which led to its prolonged nature.
On Wednesday, the National Industrial Court presided by Justice Polycap Hamman ruled that ASUU strike was in breach of Section 18(1) of the Trade Dispute Act and accordingly ordered ASUU to call off the strike. It noted that the strike by ASUU since February 14, 2022, has caused irreparable damage to the careers of many students in Nigeria.
But reacting to the development, National Vice Chairman, North West, Saliu Lukman said, “Although under the law, provision of dispute settlement is required to go through processes of mediation, conciliation and compulsory adjudication through the Industrial Arbitration Panel and National Industrial Court, the reality is the almost complete absence of any mechanism to negotiate a resolution or at the least implement the agreement.”
He added that “Over the years, however, conciliation and mediation, as functions of labour administration, have greatly declined due to lethargic factors largely because of indecisiveness of the Ministry of Labour. For instance, the processes for access to both the IAP and NIC, being the two legal bodies with the primary responsibility of dispute settlement that is legally binding, are mainly through the Minister of Labour. It is curious to ask, out of all the plethora of industrial disputes leading to strikes, how many have been filed before the IAP and NIC to pre-empt strikes?
“In addition, given that awards by both IAP and NIC are not made directly to the parties but through the Minister, who has the right to refer the parties back to both the IAP and NIC, how many judgements have been obtained and to what extent has the Minister or his representatives taken actions to refer parties back to IAP and NIC to enforce existing judgements and therefore avoid strikes? Without going into all the legal technicalities, which are the vocation of lawyers, in several cases, the Ministry of Labour is laid back and hardly intervenes to prevent strikes from taking place through brokering negotiations between workers’ and employers’ organisations until the strike commences.”
He said, “Imagining that processes of mediation, conciliation and compulsory adjudication by the Ministry of Labour as provided under the Trade Dispute Act immediately ASUU served notice of strike. Certainly, a judgement by either Industrial Arbitration Panel or NIC would have been obtained before the commencement of the strike. Sadly, here we are, the same judgement that would have been delivered before the strike commenced on February 14 is only obtained about seven months into the strike.
“Better late than never. However, the demand must be made clearly, never again should the Ministry of Labour abdicate from its responsibility of arresting strikes based on the ability to activate processes of mediation, conciliation and compulsory adjudication. The Ministry of Labour must be reformed to discharge these functions effectively and efficiently. Democracy is about rule of law.
“At all times, laws must be activated to regulate the conduct of citizens and government officials. Every step must be taken to enforce the judgement of Justice Polycap Hamman. The last seven months have been traumatic for parents and innocent students. Everything must be done to bring to an immediate end the sufferings and hardships inflicted by the seven months strike.
“The debate about whether the government should pay ASUU members for the seven months they are on strike should be treated based on the provisions of their employment contract. Anything to the contrary will amount to encouraging ASUU, and by extension other unions to engage in processes of collective bargaining based on blackmail antics and show of crude power.
“This must be discouraged. If the government will at all consider any payment, it should compute what ASUU members could have earned during the period and pay it to students as a scholarship or some sort of compensation for the ‘irreparable damages to their careers’ occasioned by the strike. In fact, ASUU members should voluntarily and willingly accept this as part of the discharge of their community service function,” he said.