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Confusion in research institutions over suspension of strike

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja
10 May 2022   |   4:20 am
Workers in the research institutions under the auspices of the Joint Research and Allied Institutions Sector Unions (JORAISU) have suspended their seven months old strike.

Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige PHOTO:Twitter

Workers in the research institutions under the auspices of the Joint Research and Allied Institutions Sector Unions (JORAISU) have suspended their seven months old strike.

   
The strike, which began on October 13, 2021 and was purported to have been suspended via a press statement issued on May 5, 2022, cited a letter written to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige by the General Secretary of Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions (ASURI), Theophilus Ndubuaku.
 
Ndubuaku, in the said letter to the Minister of Labour and Employment, hinged the decision to suspend the strike on the efforts the Minister made so far in resolving the lingering action.
   
In a swift reaction, the General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), Peters Adeyemi faulted the purported suspension.
   
He said: “I don’t know what the statement issued by the Ministry of Labour and Employment tried to achieve. We have an ongoing strike declared on the platform of JORAISU. The strike has not been suspended. The Ministry of Labour and Employment is yet to hold a single meeting with JORAISU on the strike. The Ministry has attempted to invite us to meetings. It had written twice inviting us to a meeting and twice it postponed the meeting. The issues in dispute that led to the strike have not been addressed. So, how can anyone be talking about suspending the strike?”
   
However, in a retraction letter titled ‘Further clarification on suspension of ASURI strike viz-a-viz JORAISU strike’ dated May 5, 2022 letter to ASURI’s chairmen, secretaries and all the members, the same Ndubuaku said: “. . . ASURI is a signatory to the JORAISU strike, which commenced on October 13, 2021. That strike has not been called off and we have no reason to direct our members to desist from participating in it. The JORAISU strike is a sectoral struggle, so we cannot pull out of it unilaterally. The leadership of JORAISU is one and there is no division whatsoever.”  
  
Ndubuaku further noted that it is not within ASURI to unilaterally suspend the strike called by JORAISU, which is made of ASURI, Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), and Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI).
  
The latter part of Ndubuaku’s letter to ASURI members in which he said: “The action which we took in suspending ASURI strike is purely for strategic reasons”, may have inadvertently led to more confusion.
   
Then he added: “As stated in our earlier clarification, it is not in our power to unilaterally call off or suspend the JORAISU strike.”
   
But another WhatsApp message sent to ASURI members on Friday afternoon obtained by The Guardian provided more clarity. It read: “Respected Comrades and members of this hallowed ASURI Chambers, I have been directed to inform us that our great Union has not pulled out of the JORAISU strike and that our participation and compliance should be total. Maximum regards.”
   
Indeed, the payment of 12 months’ arrears of the new salary structure approved for the workers in research institutes is at the centre of the strike.
     
Providing more insights into the matter, Adeyemi said: “We have had several Memorandum of Agreements and Memorandum of Understandings saying the money will be paid at a particular date. Nothing has happened. We have been on this matter since the President Goodluck Jonathan era. When Buhari came on board, we brought it to the attention of the then Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe. We even had an agreement, which was signed by the current Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, Ogbe as well as the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology. In that agreement, we were to give the government only six weeks to pay the arrears.”
   
Adeyemi listed 65 years retirement age for workers in the research institutes, adequate funding of the research institute, the establishment of the National Agricultural Research Institutes Commission and skipping of CONTISS 10 as the core issues in dispute.
   
The NASU scribe revealed that the government is already paying the arrears in a few institutions, saying the part payment in some institutions shows that the arrears are legitimate.
   
“One of the reasons we are on this current strike is because of the partial payment. We cannot understand why the government is hesitant to pay all the workers in the research institutions. The Minister of Labour and Employment has even gone to the point of writing to the Ministry of Finance listing the research institutes that are paid and the list of those that are yet to be paid. Yet the Federal Ministry of Finance has refused to pay.”