The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, says there will be consequences if the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) refuses the government’s overture to return to the negotiating table.
Mr Ngige disclosed this on Sunday in a statement signed by his media aide, Emmanuel Nzomiwu, in Enugu.
The statement said Mr Ngige spoke in his hometown Alor, Anambra, where he donated palliative worth N15 million to vulnerable households to cushion COVID-19 effects.
He said that the federal government could activate relevant labour laws to deal with the situation.
He said that the law permits the federal government to approach the National Arbitration Panel (NAP) and even the National Industrial Court (NIC).
The minister said that the ASUU strike was all about the disagreement on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
“Any other reason given by ASUU is an alibi. I invited ASUU for a zoom meeting in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, but they insisted on meeting me face to face.
“We have labour laws and hierarchy of arbitration. There is the NAP and NIC. If I am tired, I can refer it there.
“So the better thing is for them to come and negotiate on firsthand basis where we are not bringing an external arbitrator,” he said.
According to him, ASUU as an employee lacks the right to dictate to the federal government on how to receive wages.
“The important thing is for your salaries and wages to come to you. As a workman, you receive your pay as compensation for services rendered. So, that is on the statute everywhere,” he said.
Mr Ngige said that some of the people drawing salaries from the federal government coffers were ghost workers.
He said that there had been a shortfall in tax returns by the various universities over time which accumulated to over N800 billion.
He said that the Joint Tax Board (JTB) had penalised the federal government for nonremitance of the monies to the benefiting state governments.
The minister said that it was sad that ASUU had been uncompromising in the dispute.
“We had discussions and they said some of the agreements we had in Memorandum of Action 2019, were not implemented vigorously.
“We agreed that they will be paid N25 billion for their earned academic allowances and another N25 billion for revitalisation of university system.
“The federal government paid the first tranche of N50 billion and N25 billion. Thereafter, there was the issue of National Minimum Wage and its consequential adjustment,” he said.
He said that the federal government spent N160 billion in the process.
Mr Ngige said that the federal government could not pay ASUU the next tranche of N25 billion in October last year.
“They said there is a breach. We said we are owing. That we can pay it. So, we restructured it and agreed that the government can pay them 20 billion and another 20 billion for earned academic allowances between April 2020 and May.
“We all agreed,” Mr Ngige said.