The ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) would have dragged on for two years because of a lack of progress in negotiations, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has said.
“If I leave them in education they will stay there two years without progress,” Ngige told his audience at the public presentation of a book which chronicles the labour movement struggles at 40 in the country on Monday.
According to the Nation, Ngige said he referred the dispute to the National Industrial Court after negotiations between the union and the Federal Ministry of Education had broken down.
Ngige said he would have failed in his duties if he didn’t refer the matter to the NICN in line with section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act 2004 after seven months of protracted discussions and negotiations with the union which failed.
He recalled that ASUU was at the stage of collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiation with their employers, the Federal Ministry of Education when they embarked on strike.
The Minister noted that the leadership of ASUU does not understand the import of CBA negotiation because they lacked the nutrients of labour unionism.
He said: “We have to counsel our brothers on negotiation. No negotiation is forced. You cannot say it is either you give me 200 per cent or I will continue my strike. There are laws guiding strikes. There are ILO principles on the right to strike. Nobody can take it away.
“But, there are things that follow it when you embark on strike as a worker and they are enshrined in the laws of our land. It is written in the Trade Dispute Act. The ILO principles of strike talks about the right of a worker to withdraw services. There is also a right to picket. These are things that are done.
“Nigeria is respected in ILO. Some people said the Federal Government took ASUU to court. No. I referred the matter after seven months of protracted discussions and negotiations that failed.”
Ngige recalled that he conciliated the dispute twice, first on February 22, one week after the commencement of the strike and some agreements were reached, and he brought everybody back on March 1 for another conciliation.
According to him, the only thing left was going back to the Federal Ministry of Education for the renegotiation of the 2013 agreement.
“Some people are talking about the 2009 agreement. The 2009 agreement was renegotiated in 2013/2014 with the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It is an anathema to use the 2009 agreement.
“What is left is the renegotiation of their conditions of service, which is their right. It should be done but they are negotiating it under the principle of offer and acceptance and it broke down irretrievably there at the Federal Ministry of Education. That Kick-started Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act whereby the Minister of Labour and Employment, whoever it is, if you don’t transmit according to the dictates of Section 17, TDA, 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, you would have failed in your function.
“Therefore, I had to transmit,” the Minister said.
Ngige, however, said the transmission does not mean that the matter cannot be settled out of court.
He said either of the parties involved, the Federal Ministry of Education and ASUU could approach the NICN for an out-of-court settlement.
The Minister maintained that Nigeria must be guided by laws and nobody should use the dispute to harangue anybody.
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