The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has said the Federal Government adopted voluntary conciliation towards the resolution of the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) instead of arbitration in order not to delay the resolution process. Ngige made the disclosure yesterday at the Join Workshop on International Labour Standards and Dispute Resolutions organised by the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Abuja. According to him, he could have transmitted the matter to the IAP or National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), but used his discretion to weigh the situation to know if it will cause more delay in the resolution of the dispute in a court process.
The ex-Anambra State governor said after public university lecturers began the strike on February 14, he started voluntary conciliation on February 22. According to him, at a meeting with the union on March 1, most of the issues arising from the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA) signed by ASUU and the Ministry of Education, with other government agencies involved, were resolved, leaving just two. The minister said: “The two outstanding issues were the conditions of service, which according to the 2009 agreement,would be reviewed every four years.
The last review was in 2013 and we started the review in 2018 under Wale Babalakin (SAN) as the chairman of the renegotiation committee. We could not conclude because Babalakin left. “A new committee headed by Munzali came. Munzali finished his work and put in his report to the Ministry of Education. All these committees, including the previous Onosode committee, were all internal committees of the Ministry of Education. They discuss with the unions and give them offers and counter-offers vis-a-vis what they have said. Once the committees finish, their products are sent up. “The major issue here is salary and wage review. That is where they were before ASUU embarked on strike.”
Ngige said once a strike occurs, it triggers the content of the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) on how to resolve the industrial action, adding that the Ministry of Education is still handling the matter because he transmitted it back to them. He said: “If a party wants us to transmit a matter back to them to have a second look, you assist them. That is what you call voluntary conciliation. It is voluntary because if I apprehend and bring all the parties to the negotiation table and a party requests that I should take the matter to NICN, I will do so.” In his keynote address, Ngige described the workshop as one of the reforms ongoing in his ministry as hitherto, some arbitrators have not fully understood the tenets of the panel(IAP) and were handicapped in discharging their duties.