The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige yesterday said the federal government was still expecting the Ministry of Education to conclude and submit the outcome of negotiations with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other university-based unions.
The minister said this same day the two weeks ultimatum President Muhammadu Buhari had given the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, to resolve the ongoing strike by ASUU and other university-based unions.
Speaking further, Ngige also gave reason why his ministry adopted voluntary conciliation for the resolution of the strike by ASUU instead of arbitration, saying it did so in order to hasten the resolution process.
Ngige disclosed these while answering questions from journalists at the Joint Workshop on International Labour Standards and Dispute Resolutions, Organised by the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Abuja.
The minister said he could have transmitted the matter to the IAP or the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), but used his discretion to weigh the situation to know if it would cause more delay in the resolution of the dispute in a court process.
He recalled that ASUU embarked on strike on February 14 and he started voluntary conciliation on February 22 and subsequently on March 1.
According to him, by the second meeting, most of the issues arising from the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) signed between ASUU and the Ministry of Education with other government agencies involved were conciliated, leaving out only two.
Ngige explained: “The two outstanding issues were the conditions of service, which according to the 2009 agreement would be reviewed every four years. The last review was in 2013 and we started the review in 2018 under Wale Babalakin as the chairman of the renegotiation committee. We could not conclude because Babalakin left.
“A new committee headed by Munzali came. Munzali finished his work and put in his report at the Federal Ministry of Education. All these committees including the previous Onosode committee were all internal committees of the Ministry of Education. They discuss with the unions and give them offers and counter offers vis-a-vis what they have said. Once the committees are finished, their products are sent up.
“The major issue here is salary and wage review. That was where they were before ASUU embarked on strike.”
While explaining his role in the ASUU strike saga, Ngige said once a strike occurs, it triggers the content of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) on how to resolve the industrial action.
He said the Ministry of Education was still handling the matter because he transmitted it back to them.
“If a party wants us to transmit a matter back to them to have a second look, you assist them. That is what you call voluntary conciliation. It is voluntary because if I apprehend and bring all the parties to the negotiation table and a party requests that I should take the matter to NICN, I will do so,” he said.