Union ends strike, commits to virtual teaching, doing extra work

Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, yesterday gave insight into the deal between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that led the union to suspend its nine-month industrial action.

Ngige told journalist that part of the agreement between the two parties during the final round of negotiations on Tuesday that preceded the suspension of the strike yesterday, was that the lecturers will conduct virtual teaching and restart academic activities before the January 18 stipulated by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. Besides, ASUU accepted to do extra time and to recover lost ground.

The minister also said he would not give ASUU any excuse to go on strike again.

ASUU had earlier yesterday announced the suspension of the strike, which began in March to press home its demand, among others, for university lecturers to be removed from the digital salary payment platform, Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), mandated by the federal government for the payment of its employees’ salaries.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja, ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said the decision to go back to the classroom was made based on the agreement reached with the federal government at a meeting on Tuesday, which addressed most of its demands.

He said an implementation committee had been set up to monitor the implementation of the agreements.

“On the basis of the foregoing, the NEC resolved that the current strike by the union should be suspended conditionally with effect from 12.01 a.m Thursday, December 24, 2020. However, should government fail to fulfil its own part of the agreement, ASUU will resume its suspended strike as deemed necessary,” he added.

Ogunyemi, who read out some of the resolutions reached by ASUU National Executive Council (NEC) at its meeting held on Tuesday night to review reports of agreement with the federal government, said the union resolved to give another chance to the federal government to prove that it can be trusted.

He said the NEC agreed to accept the agreements reached between ASUU and the federal government on Tuesday and resolved to consciously and diligently monitor their implementation.

When asked if the federal government has kept its promise to start payment of salaries arrears of ASUU members, Ogunyemi said that it has started though not completed yet.

Ogunyemi added that it was also agreed that no ASUU member should suffer any loss of deserved benefits as a result of participation in the strike.

According to him, the union resolved to pursue the areas in the ASUU-FG agreement of 2009 and Memoradum of Action 2013 that require legislation such as the mainstreaming of the Earned Academic Allowances (EAA) into the annual budget and amending the National University Commission (NUC) Act 2004.

Ogunyemi listed key demands of ASUU for which an agreement was reached to include, the immediate release of earned academic allowances and mainstreaming of the EAA into the annual budget, using the agreed formula, to immediately engage the universities and other research centres in the fight against COVID-19.

As part of the agreement, the federal government is to expedite action on the test processes and ensure the deployment of the University Transperancy and Accountability Solution (UTAS), the union’s preferred alternative for the payment of salaries in the university system.

Ogunyemi said the integrity test on UTAS is at the last stage now.

In addition, Ogunyemi said that ASUU expect the government to fast-track the FG-ASUU re-negotiation to ensure that it is concluded within the timelines agreed by both parties.

Ogunyemi said: “ASUU has undertaken to go back to classrooms, laboratories to do our best for our students and our country.

*We are going back to rekindle the motivation and aspirations in our members to strive to encourage our students to excel, all in expectations that governments, both federal and states, will sincerely fullfil their own part of the bargain.”

Ogunyemi listed some of the key demands tabled by ASUU, and which ignited the current strike, to include funding for revitalisation of public university infrastructure, earned academic allowances, withheld salaries, proliferation of state universities, visitation panels, reconstitution of the government re-negotiation team and the replacement of IPPIS with UTAS.

However, Ngige, while reacting to the suspension of the strike, explained that as part of their obligations in the agreement reached on Tuesday, ASUU accepted to teach extra time, including conducting virtual teaching in order cover the time lost during their nine-month strike.

Speaking on plans for resumption of teaching in universities, Ngige said pending the time government will order the reopening of the schools, each university’s Senate can give a directive on the commencement of virtual teaching before the January 18, 2021 stipulated by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

“The Senate of the universities can arrange for virtual teaching to commence in the first week of January, next year. It is a win-win situation for everybody.

“We want to congratulate all Nigerians the parents, the National Assembly and ASUU for the resolution of the dispute. For both sides, it’s a conditional foothold because while the federal government pledged to fulfill it’s part, ASUU also promised to do extra work load so that lost time will be recovered . They also pledged in the agreement to do virtual teaching,” he said.

On the amount of money released to ASUU and the universities under the agreement, Ngige said the federal government had approved release of N40 billion for earned allowances to all categories of staff in the universities.

He made some clarifications on the disbursement of the earned allowances, saying that only deserving staff will benefit from the payment.

“It is not money for dash; the university vice chancellors will scrutinise the process and ensure that only staff that merited to be paid are allowed to partake in it,” he added

Ngige, however, said the federal government would release N30 billion revitalisation fund to the universities by January.

Ngige also said he would not give ASUU any excuse to go on strike again.

Ngige, whose ministry is the negotiator between the union and the Federal Ministry of Education, said he would ensure the government keeps its part of the bargain.

Ngige, who featured on a live television programme yesterday, said: “We will not get to that (fresh strike); we will not get there because we have so structured the agreement in such a way that it is a win-win situation for everybody.

“For example, the revitalisation (Fund), we have given government up to 31st of January to pay that. We have also opened the window that by end of February, we will sit down and review the situation, eight weeks or nine weeks from now, so nobody will keep anybody in suspense.

“I will not give ASUU the opportunity to go on strike (again) because I have three biological children that suffered from this imbroglio that we found ourselves in. “So, I am a committed parent; I am involved, even more than some ASUU members because some of them have their children in private schools.

“I will not give them the opportunity because I will make sure the government does its own bit. I have structured the agreement in such a way that it is doable.”

On the threat by the ASUU president that the union could return to strike without informing the government, Ngige said: “They also know that we have labour laws and if the worst comes to the worst, they will give time, they will give notice.”

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