Ifeanyi P. Onyeonoru argues that the claims by the minister of labour and employment are deeply flawed
I carefully read the press release of December 8, 2020 from the media office of the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, regarding the on-going effort at resolving the industrial dispute between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The claims of the minister on ‘no work no pay’ rule are flawed on several counts.
First, the government lacks the right to impose a no work no pay rule on workers who embarked on a strike because it (government) violated the sanctity of collective agreement which it freely entered into with the trade union. If this is allowed to happen, then the industrial relations system would have lost the very self-regulatory pluralist value on which it is anchored. Hence, in the current case, the federal government as the violator cannot at the same time reach out to invoke the no work no pay clause. This strike is clearly provoked by the government and by this singular act she strips herself of the morality and capacity to impose the no work no pay rule. Otherwise, the government could one day deny workers of their allowances thereby provoking them to embark on strike to demand it, then proceed to invoke the no work no pay rule to deny them of their salaries too. The minister had mooted the idea of taking ASUU to court – the National Industrial Court I suppose. I wish he does, so that he can be taught some lessons in collective agreement which is the centre-piece of the Nigerian industrial relations – at least going by the books.
Second, the case of the medical workers strike which the minister referred to must not be used as precedence for ASUU. Every case has to be treated on its own merit. Indeed if that case has to do with the reneging of a collective agreement by the government, then the no work no pay rule needed not apply.
Third, the minister has failed to see himself as a conciliator in industrial dispute which he is supposed to be. He is the aggressor, the accuser, the judge and the executioner. This runs fowl of the principle of natural justice as well as the letter and the spirit of ILO Conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory. In fact, it is the position of the ILO that a government cannot declare a strike in the public sector illegal, being one of the disputants. Someone should inform the minister that he is meant to be a conciliator – even if pretentiously. He is a public servant and not necessarily a government servant. Public interest should be the overriding interest and the guiding principle of the minister’s actions.
Thirdly, it is important for the minister to realize that the job description of the academic staff is officially three pronged, namely teaching, research and community service. These three dimensions are interwoven and mesh inextricably with each other. Until the minister is able to show evidence that no research and, or community service has been going on since February 2020 he has no basis to justify the imposition of the no work no pay clause. I think there is a subsistent court ruling on this matter, which the minister should avail himself of.
Fourth, what is this propaganda about paying lecturers’ salaries from February to June, 2020 by compassion? Did the government not shut down the institutions for about the said period due to COVID 19? Were the public servants not so compelled to withdraw their services for the period? Were they not being paid? What compassion are we talking about? This is cheap blackmail. The minister should be advised to stop using such demeaning terms for intellectuals.
Finally, one is beginning to feel that the minister is playing a cover up. Otherwise, I see no reason why he would, rather than facilitate the end of the strike (after all these efforts) by making the payments he goes on filer bursting. If the government is bankrupt the minister should come out clearly and say so rather than embark on rigmarole. It is also important he realizes that a hungry man is an angry man. He would not be deemed wise to allow lecturers to go to class without their pay. There is no need for a transfer of aggression which the minister seems to be calling for. Please let the sleeping dogs lie.
Onyeonoru is Professor of Workplace Relations, Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan