New dawn in varsity administration as ASUU rival union, CONUA, NAMDA get certificate of registration
• May get unpaid salaries
The Federal Government may have succeeded in breaking the ranks of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as it presented certificates of recognition to the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA).
Presenting the certificate in Abuja on Tuesday, January 17, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, also gave indication of payment of the withheld salaries of CONUA members.
The minister lauded CONUA for marshalling its points with relevant sections of the Trade Dispute Act, as well as the Trade Union Act.
“I am happy that CONUA is doing the right things by citing relevant sections of the laws to back up its claims on why the Federal Government should pay them their withheld salaries. Their behaviour is unlike some other unions that talk without empirical data and figures. We have heard you. The Federal Government will study your request and respond appropriately,” he said.
Ngige also lauded managements of teaching hospitals of universities in Bauchi, Maduguri, Sokoto and Enugu for opting out of the eight months strike.
Justifying the registration of the two unions from the existing ASUU, Ngige said the procedures adopted in the registration exercise followed due process.
His words: “There are organisations that have been unbundled. For example, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was unbundled into power generation and distribution companies. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was recently unbundled into the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL). Here in the ministry of labour and employment, we unbundled the pensioner national union. So, there is nothing unusual in unbundling any organisation. The two unions approached us sometimes in 2017 on the need for them to have their separate unions. We set up a committee to review that. It was CONUA that came first. Then NAMDA came and we set up committees to study their requests. They claimed that the interests of their members such as allowances are not always captured when ASUU struggle for theirs. They also said some of their members were suspended from ASUU. Their case was about exclusion. After we studied their cases, the ministry then decided to register them. Today, I am presenting them with the certificates of recognition as well as the gazette. We advertised in the newspapers for anyone to come up with objections before the requests were gazetted. We did not receive any complaints. That is why we are now presenting them with the certificates. By this step, the two unions are officially recognised as labour unions in Nigeria.”
The minister also defended labour migration, which is, tagged the ‘Japa’ syndrome saying, “for me, there is nothing wrong in workers seeking greener pastures. We had remittances trounced what Nigeria got from crude oil in recent years. There is nothing wrong with that if we properly develop the process.”
Similarly, he took a swipe at ASUU members for claiming to be able to restore lost period to strike any time they resume.
“I hear the argument by some lecturers that they always restore lost period when they resume work. How? By embarking on crash programme of teaching what they are suppose to teach in three months within one week and rush students to the examination halls? Is that how to restore lost times? Or in a situation where a programme that is supposed to end in four years end in six years, how do they restore six to four years? Strike does not benefit any of the contending parties. Parents lose, government lose and above all, the students lose much more,” he said.
In his address, an elated President of CONUA, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, who lauded the minister for possessing the political will to do that which is right, observed that the registration of the two unions is that there may never be a total shutdown of the universities again, saying, “because the peculiarities of many academics in the system are different, the ideologies are also different, hence the different unions would always approach things differently at all times. This is noteworthy.”
According to him, through the IPPIS office this inappropriate remittance to ASUU was reflected on payslips of CONUA members for the affected months.
“The President of ASUU, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, implicitly admitted this financial travesty, which was perpetrated about three years after CONUA had been formed and members had expressly written to the appropriate authorities to stop remitting our check-off dues to ASUU. It is important to note that the stoppage was appropriately effected before ASUU unethically manipulated the IPPIS office to resume the deduction,” he said.
In this regard, Professor Osodeke was reported to have said in June 22, 2021 Punch: “There is no union known as CONUA… It is only one union that we have for academic staff of universities and that is ASUU. You have to indicate to be our member. For us in ASUU, we have indicated those who are members of ASUU to the AGF and those whose check –off dues were deducted and remitted to us are members of ASUU. Any other claim by any union is illegal; you do not build anything on illegality. If they have such union, they should write IPPIS to send the check off dues to them.”
The union leader quoted Section 2(1) of the Trade Unions Act which states: “A trade union shall not perform any act in furtherance of the purposes for which it has been formed unless it has been registered under this Act, provided that nothing in this subsection shall prevent a trade union from taking any steps (including the collection of subscriptions or dues) which may be necessary for the purpose of getting the union registered.”
CONUA also berated ASUU for preventing it from collecting check-off dues of its members.
He said: “CONUA was recognised by law as a bonafide trade union right from the time it was formed in 2018, and it was entitled, since then, to collect the check-off dues of its members by and for itself, as it continued to pursue its registration with the Ministry of Labour and Employment. Section 12(4) of the Trade Unions Act states that ‘notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Act, membership of a trade union by employees shall be voluntary and no employee shall be forced to join any trade union or be victimised for refusing to join or remain a member.’ In contravention of this provision of the labour law, ASUU sought to force members of CONUA to rejoin ASUU by deceitfully getting the check-off dues from the salaries of the CONUA members to be paid to ASUU without the prior knowledge or consent of the CONUA members.”
Sunmonu also faulted the withheld salaries of CONUA members since, according to him, it was the managements of universities that locked the gates of institutions which forced CONUA members out of work and not that CONUA declare an industrial disagreement with their employers.
His words: “An issue that is of even greater concern to the members of CONUA is the continued withholding of salaries of CONUA members in connection with the eight-month-long ASUU strike of 2022. Since CONUA neither declared nor joined the strike, it is unjust to withhold our members’ salaries in contravention of the following provision of Section 43(1b) of the Trade Disputes Act CAP.T8: ‘where any employer locks out his workers, the workers shall be entitled to wages and any other applicable remuneration for the period of the 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.’
“In other words, there is no moral nor legal basis for the “No Work, No Pay” policy to be applied to CONUA members, because we were only unable to perform our full duties due to the lockout arising from the shutdown of the universities by university authorities who directed students to vacate the campuses.”
The union appealed to the Federal Government to rescind its decision to continue to withhold the salaries of its members.
CONUA also urged the minister to invoke the powers invested him in Section 43(2) of the Trade Dispute Act CAP. T8, which says thus: “If any question should arise as to whether there has been a lock-out for the purpose 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.”