The Congress of University Academics (CONUA), has expressed disappointment over the decision of the Federal Government to withhold eight months salaries of its members.
CONUA, a rival Union to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), was presented the certificate of registration along with the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Lecturers in Academics (NAMDA), by Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, at the peak of the strike by ASUU in October.
Lecturers of the Federal Government owned universities had embarked on strike on February 14, 2022, to demand the release of revitalisation funds for universities; deployment of the University Transparency Accountability System (UTAS), for the payment of salaries and allowances of university lecturers; release of earned allowances; the release of the white paper report of the visitation panels to universities and other issues involving the ASUU-FGN 2009 agreement.
The Government had during the strike, declared a “No Work, No Pay” policy.
While ASUU had on October 14, suspended the eight months strike declared on February 14, 2022, the Federal Government had in line with its “No Work, No Pay” policy, paid ASUU members half their salary for October 2022, and also withheld the 8 months pay, the period the lecturers were on strike.
In a statement signed by the Head of Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, the Government explained that lecturers were paid their October salary pro-rata because they cannot be paid for work not done.
However, CONUA, in a statement on Tuesday, threatened to sue the Federal Government over the withheld salaries of its members.
The statement by its president, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, National Secretary, Dr Henri Oripeloye and National Publicity Secretary, Dr Ernest Nwoke, insisted that the government’s action violates labour law.
The Union pointed out that its members had expected the Federal Government to correct itself by releasing the withheld salaries along with November salary, but it failed to do so after series of letters and actions reminding the Minister of Labour and Accountant General, that its members did not participate in the strike.
The statement read: “ The Congress of University Academics (CONUA) has expressed disappointment with the Federal Government, especially the Ministry of Labour and Employment, over the non-payment of its members’ withheld salaries even when the government knew that the union did not call for strike action and its members were not involved in the strike action that lasted for eight months and which shut down the university system nationwide.
CONUA formally made its non-involvement in the strike known to the Federal Government in a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment in April 2022. In the letter, we made it clear that because CONUA constituted a separate and independent union in the university system, our members did not call for any strike.
This was followed by a press conference in Abuja on August 19, 2022, at which it was categorically stated that CONUA was not part of any ongoing strike and that the “No Work No Pay” principle ought not to apply to members of the union.
CONUA’s expectation is that, due to the express and categorical declaration, the government would seamlessly release our members’ outstanding salaries when it resumed the payment of salaries to all university staff in October 2022. But to our dismay, CONUA members were also paid pro-rata salaries in complete disregard to the fact that we were indeed shut out of duties by the strike
Subsequently, we wrote to the Accountant-General of the Federatıon and the Ministry of Labour and Employment reminding them that it was an error to lump our members with those that declared and embarked on strike action. It was yet another shock for the outstanding backlog of salaries not to have been paid to our members along with the November 2022 salary.
The non-payment of our withheld salaries contravenes Section 43 (1b) of the Trade Disputes Act CAP. T8, which states that ‘where any employer locks out his workers, the workers shall be entitled to wages and any other applicable remunerations for the period of the lock-out and the period of the lock-out shall not prejudicially affect any rights of the workers being rights dependent on the continuity of the period of employment.’ This provision is consistent with global best practices.
From the foregoing and as a law-abiding union that pledged to do things differently, we have resolved to seek legal redress of the illegal withholding of our legitimate salaries by taking the matter to court in consonance with the rights enshrined in our laws.”