The federal government has yesterday upbraided the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over the union’s two-week warning strike, saying that it was illegal and inspired by corruption.
ASUU has embarked on the two weeks warning strike on Monday over unresolved IPPIS imbroglio and other pending industrial issues between the association and federal government.
The federal government said the warning strike is illegal because the union failed to notify it as it ought to do before embarking on the strike, adding that it is an act of corruption because the lecturers have already withdrawn their services and yet expect to be paid for the period.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, while fielding questions from newsmen after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in the State House, Abuja, said he was shocked to read on Monday that the union had embarked on a warning strike.
He described the industrial action as a pure strike and nothing like a warning strike as claimed by the lecturers.
He said a strike means withdrawal of services, what the lecturers have embarked upon is not different and should not be given a different name.
Ngige faulted ASUU’s continued opposition to the federal government’s directive that lecturers should register on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) platform, saying there is nowhere employees dictate to their employers how they should be paid.
While expressing hope that the matter would be resolved, he said he would meet with the union today along with the Minister of Education, Minister of Finance and the Accountant General of the Federation.
The minister, who also said he was aware that the National Assembly and the Ministry of Education met with ASUU yesterday, explained that the decision to bring university lecturers into IPPIS platform began two years ago.
He said the platform was designed generally to plug leakages in the system.
He said: “So, I was shocked on Monday when I read and saw some people coming out of the university that lecturers have gone on strike. I have my children in Nigerian universities and I saw them and it is not very cheery news. They didn’t give us the mandatory notice before going on strike. So for a start, this strike is illegal.
“They said it is a warning strike but there is nothing like warning strike. A strike is the withdrawal of services for which you are being paid. Then, the question will arise – if you don’t go to work, do you want to be paid? Is it not corruption? So, this is the dilemma.
“So, to solve the dilemma I have invited them to the meeting for tomorrow (Thursday). I have invited the minister of education, their principal employer, the finance ministry and the accountant general of the federation. So, we will meet and discuss the way forward because no employee is empowered to dictate to his employer on how he or she should be paid. There is an ILO convention on it. The important thing is that you receive your compensation for services rendered or work done as and when due.
“So, we hope to solve the problems. ASUU members are Nigerians. They are patriotic but tomorrow we hope to engage them.”
However, Ngige said ASUU had claimed it could not be brought into the IPPIS platform because it had unique characteristics because lecturers go on sabbatical and some of them teach in more than one university.
He said whereas bringing them into the IPPIS wouldn’t allow them to be paid twice along with the existence of the bank verification number (BVN), government decision is that those on sabbatical are only paid allowances just as their counterparts in medical departments receive clinical allowances for clinical duties and consultations.
He said ASUU claimed that it had introduced a platform in the university to fight corruption and the government described it as a welcome development and requested that the platform be merged with IPPIS.
According to him, at the last meeting with the union, the government asked ASUU to nominate members to serve in IPPIS committee in every university only for the union to suddenly make a u-turn and embark on strike.
“So, if you go on sabbatical, this is the government’s position. What you should receive in that other place is an allowance, and allowance has a different portal. That is the portal that doctors are using. You know that medical consultants have an arrangement by which they are employed at the universities as lecturers 1, 2 until they ascend to become professors but hospitals are paying them allowances for clinical duties being done, the teaching of medical students, surgical operations, consultations in clinics if you are a physician.
“So, these allowances are captured but IPPIS will not capture two salaries for one person, and the government also said that sabbatical is always after seven years. So, there is no frequency for one person on sabbatical.
“Now we are on the same page because they say they want to help fight corruption and weed away ghost workers and they said they have developed a University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).
“At the last visit to Mr. President, we said bring UTAS and we will merge it with IPPIS for you as a special peculiarity because the staff that will manage the IPPIS in the university are staff of the university not people in Abuja. We asked ASUU to nominate those to serve in the IPPIS committee in every institution. So, that is where we are after the visit to Mr. President.”
Earlier, Ngige said he briefed the council on the activities of his ministry in his first 100 days in office in accordance with the mandate given to all ministers, saying one of the ministry’s moves is to ensure that every worker is protected through insurance by his employer.
According to him, it is compulsory for all employers in both the private and public sectors to procure two forms of insurance for their employees.
He identified the first one as a package to protect workers against work hazards while the other is group life insurance meant to insure the lives of employees in case of death.
Ngige, who said all employers must pay insurance fees for every employee noted that children of employees would benefit from group life insurance until they attain the age of 21.