Labour May Mobilise Support For ASUU Over Strike


Another dimension was yesterday introduced to the lingering face-off between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said that it has concluded plans to mobilise for the success of the second phase of the teachers' strike.

The General Secretary of the Congress, Mr. John Odah, in a press statement yesterday in Abuja said it would soon summon both its Central Working Committee (CWC) and National Executive Committee (NEC) to explore the best way to give solidarity support to the three unions that are engaged in the strike.

And the House of Representatives Committee on Education has held another round of talks with the minister, Dr. Sam Egwu and leader of the Federal Government negotiation team, Gamaliel Onosode, to discuss ways out of the logjam.

The NLC disowned the position of its Vice President, Alhaji Issa Aremu who reportedly said ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU) and Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) had over-used the strike option in their struggle to ensure better funding of the tertiary institutions. Odah said it was Aremu's personal opinion that did not represent the NLC's position.

According to Odah, the Abdulwaheed Omar-led Congress has internal mechanisms through which it interacts with its 37 affiliates and not through public fora.

Odah remarked: "The NLC, as a responsible Central Labour Organisation with its 37 affiliates, has a refined process of relating with its affiliates. Where the need arises for Congress to have conversation with one of its affiliates, it is certainly not done through public lectures."

He stated that the NLC was consulting with all the parties involved to find a resolution to the crisis "and it cannot therefore carry out such a disparaging position against one of its affiliates."

The NLC declared that it has thus far refrained from making public statements on the strike because they would not serve the course of trying to mediate in the dispute.

Odah went on: "It was in pursuit of this that the NLC President held meetings with the leadership of the three unions on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at Congress Headquarters in Abuja, in which the presidents of all three unions were in attendance. At the meeting, we charted a path in trying to resolve this issue and the Congress leadership was mandated to reach government at the highest level to try to break the impasse. The Congress leadership has also at this period pleaded with a number of its affiliates that have been so dissatisfied and were requesting for an organ meeting to authorise solidarity action with the sector, to give it more time to try to achieve a peaceful resolution of the action which has crippled the tertiary education sector in the country."

In the event that the on-going consultations failed to yield tangible result, the NLC hinted that the unions would not walk alone as the Congress may be forced to consider other veritable options open to it.

His words: "We do hope that our efforts to resolve this crisis will achieve the desired result. But where it fails, the NLC will not hesitate to call a meeting of CWC and NEC to deliberate on the best way to give solidarity support to the unions engaged in this action."

Aremu allegedly said on Tuesday that the time had come for ASUU to suspend the strike and create a more conducive atmosphere for a renewed negotiation of their demand.

Besides, Aremu warned that refusing to call off the strike now might lead to its collapse, a situation, which he said, might be too devastating to the ASUU leaders.

He explained that the recent decision by some Federal and state universities' teachers to back out of the eight-week old strike and return to work showed that the industrial action had finally collapsed, urging the union leaders to look for alternative means of dialoguing with the government on the way forward.

He spoke while delivering a public lecture entitled "Labour strikes and the Nigerian economy" at a public lecture organized by the Nigerian Economics Students Association, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria chapter.

The Labour leader said the government must also revisit its strategies regarding the strike and negotiate with the striking lecturers.

According to Aremu, ASUU is recording serious casualties now. "The first casualties are the students. Some have died through road accidents. Some are now engaged in criminal activities. Some within ASUU, their ranks have been broken. Some of the universities refused to join the strike and some have even called off the strike."

Speaking with journalists yesterday on the meeting, the chairman of the House committee, Farouk Lawan, disclosed that the meeting was fruitful and appealed to ASUU to end the strike while negotiation goes on.

He said: "Just yesterday, I held a discussion with the Minister of Education and the leader of the negotiation team, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode and my position has simply been that while negotiations continue, dialogue ensues, because there is no way these issues can be resolved without dialogue.

"Dialogue remains the most important avenue for resolving conflicts. But while it is taking place, I believe that our students and parents should not continue to suffer. These issues can still be resolved while classes are going on. So, we are calling on ASUU and all other unions in the universities and other institutions to call off this strike, resume classes immediately while dialogue continues to resolve these issues.

"It is time for ASUU to end this strike; whatever point they needed to make I believe has already been made. And any further continuation of this action would only continue to worsen a situation that is already bad."

He lamented the state of education in the country noting it was largely responsible for the strike. "We all know that the state of education in Nigeria is quite bad and one of the most fundamental issues that ASUU and other unions in the university sector are pursuing is the issue of reforms within the educational sector, the issue of improving the quality and standard of education which is I believe is a very laudable objective and it is one that is shared by all of us, those of us in the legislature and also even those in the executive.

"Because it is in realisation of this that the Minister of Education, not too long ago unfolded a roadmap for the reform of the educational sector. So, the objectives, the issues at stake are issues that are quite laudable and issues that nobody can contest with. But the measure in pursuing those issues, to me, is further worsening the situation that is already very critical and very bad.

"The measure itself I believe is not the best under the circumstances. So, my position and the position of the Committee on Education is that we are appealing to ASUU and other unions to suspend the strike and go back to the classes while we are also reaching out to the executive and ensuring that negotiations continue."

The chairman equally appealed to some states that are yet to pay the new Teachers' Salary Structure (TSS) to do so and end the strike in the states of the federation.

He added: "I am already aware that the Governors Forum has entered into agreement with the teachers and NUT. My plea is that those states that are yet to begin the implementation of the TSS should begin to do so henceforth.

"I believe NUT has exercised much restraint and the fact that so many states have begun to implement the TSS, especially on the understanding that they collectively entered into agreement on their behalf, I believe calls on the governor of the states that are yet to begin implementation would be heeded. The NUT strike is avoidable, it is avoidable because all that is required is for the agreement entered into to be implemented.

"Unlike the current impasse between government and ASUU where, even though a draft agreement was reached, as I speak no agreement has been signed either by government or by ASUU or any of the unions.

"With regards to the tertiary and university unions, what is required is for dialogue to continue. They must go back to negotiation table but while that is happening, ASUU and other unions should suspend the strike and go back to classes."

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