The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) met with the Federal Government on the looming industrial action by the union over some disputes. PEOPLEREPORTERS speaks with the union President Comrade Anderson Ezeibe and presents the details.
Meeting with FG
Our union at the chapters level across the nation are conducting a referendum trying to get the feel of our members in respect to looming industrial actions in the sector, owing to identified unresolved issues over time. So during the working visit of the national leadership of the union to the federal ministry of education, it formed the issues that were discussed. The very top officials of the ministry led by the minister of state, representing the minister and the permanent secretary of the ministry as well as other directors, were in attendance. So basically, the discussion was centered around the issues in contention between our union and the government of Nigeria.
The consensus reached at the meeting was the fact that both parties agreed that there were problems, so the issues are there for everyone to see. The government team accepts the fact that the Needs Assessment reports of 2014 have not been implemented in any form, because not even a penny has been released out of the over N800 billion that is needed as of 2017 when it was reversed last.
There was also an agreement that our people are being sacked in different places like IMT Enugu, Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Mubi, and a host of other places. Also, the Staff of Federal Polytechnics is owed 10 months in arrears of the new minimum wage which was effective April 2019.
There’s also the issue of IPPIS which has a lot of short-coming that needs to be addressed. So we all accepted that these are challenges so the way forward Is how to address the challenges.
So we requested that in identifying all these challenges, we cannot proceed to resolve without involving or having an inter-agency or inter-ministerial collaboration. This is because some of the issues are beyond the control of the Federal Ministry of Education. For instance, the issues of minimum wage arrears, required the Accountant General of the Federation, while that of IPPIS is for the directorate of IPPIS, our scheme of service has to do with our regulatory body and Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, so you see, it has to do with multi-stakeholder engagement, and to that extent, we requested that the Federal Ministry of education facilitate this alongside the federal ministry of labour and employment, so that we can start resolving this issues item by item of which the ministry has promised to write us back within the next one week.
They also assured that they’ll reconvene the rapid response committee which was suspended, and if it were to be in place, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are today, because is the conflict resolution platform that was birthed by our last strike actions, and we’ve used it to resolve several issues, they unilaterally suspended the sitting of that committee for nearly two years now, which now allowed the issues to pile up again.
So once the sittings are reconvened, we will start monitoring all the issues like promotion arrears owed, our scheme of service that’s stuck in the office of the Head of service, and the issues of CONTISS 15 migration arrears which is still owed our members for several years now. So those were primarily what we agreed upon today.
We also talked about school resumption and, the reality on the ground is that we are not ready.
It was also gratifying to know that the minister of state for education is very active in the daily Presidential Task Force on Covid 19 briefing, so we took him to task on the resumption since not even a penny has been released to these institutions to assist them to procure these guidelines that would lead to reopening of schools.
Assuming the Congress vote for industrial action, the only thing that will stop It, for instance, the minimum wage is released, those who are Victimised or sacked should be brought back, so we are not expecting that this is going to happen within 1 week. we are not expecting that what the ministry of education is going to write us within the coming week is a cheque of the amount involved to go and implement our demands so the discussion today has more or less a nominal bearing on what we are talking about, the congresses are ongoing, what we are expecting in the writeup that will come would be maybe an outline of activities that will follow in the resolution process, and also it would be presented to the National Executive Council if they feel it’s tangible enough, it’s up to them, what we are is just representatives of the union, so if they feel it is tangible to stop whatever they’re planning, it would be left for them to discuss, but I don’t think it is to that effect.
workers right to unionise
Unionism is a fundamental right of a worker, also people have the right to aggregate in numbers to have a platform to have a peaceful expression and all that. The trade union acts provide a legal platform for this and also prescribed minimum numbers, so they should be unionised but we are in a country where a lot of things don’t work the way they should, but, most of these private Institutions, both polytechnics and universities are set up for profit-making centres and if they’re set up for such, then the proprietors would not want to see unions thriving in those places. This is because they’ll like to pay less, make a worker stay in inappropriate working conditions to extract more, and pay less from them. But at the same time, it’s impacting negatively at the sector because where you don’t have a lecturer, or the teaching staff the freedom to express themselves or voice out what is not being done right, it means you’re taking away a vital part of the academics.
Alternative to IPPIS
A lot of people don’t know that as far back as 2015, 2016, ASUP presented an alternative to IPPIS, the union working with the NBTE proposed an alternative to the IPPIS. We are the first to resist IPPIS which was in 2014, it was the resistance of our union that brought the minor amendment to IPPIS which brought about the sector-specific template.
The template arose from the one developed by our union as far back as 2017 because previously the template was that one retires at 60 years which is the normal civil service template, there were no allowances, but of cause in our sector even in our laws, you retire at 65 years so we needed that flexibility. In our sector, we have allowances, we needed to recognize those things, our career progression has some places where you’ll skip, you needed to accommodate that, we have provisions for adjunct and sabbatical, so we needed to accommodate that as well so the wake of our resistance of IPPIS in 2019 where we did an open letter to the president, we pointed out the issues with IPPIS, and then the IPPIS responded by what we call a sector-specific template for the tertiary institutions which they demonstrated to us, showing us how our allowances have been captured, how the third party deduction will be handled, the retirement age would be handled, it would be 65 years and no longer 60years. So it was at the strength of this that our people now enrolled as a matter of fact, but what we are talking about is that, in the existing template, which to be fair to IPPIS, Captured our allowance, and the appropriate retirement age for our sector, the challenge is that the way it is been implemented also leaves a lot of issues and these are administrative because if you have an omission last months, for instance, one should expect that it would be corrected in the next months but the reverse is the case. Also, one expects that the deductions made like the national housing funds, which are statutory deductions, you expect that as it is been deducted, the accounts of members would in the federal mortgage bank of Nigeria be credited, we are not seeing any of these happening, and we don’t even know where the 2.5 deductions are going. So we need to ask questions because that’s our legitimate part of income, and so that’s some of the things we are going with the payment platform.