The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has said that only the National Industrial Court, NIC, can direct the Federal Government on whether or not to pay the withdrawn salaries of lecturers.
Ngige stated this in Abuja on Sunday, noting that government was anticipating the NIC verdict of NIC on if the withheld eight-month salaries of the members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, should be paid or not.
But human rights activist and counsel to ASUU, Femi Falana, SAN, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to order the payment of arrears to the university teachers who spent eight months on strike.
Ngige in his reaction said: “The matter is in court. We are waiting for the court to call us back. It is part of the substantive issues remitted to the court for pronouncement; whether they can be paid that (eight months withheld salary arrears) or not.
“The court has not called us. It is when the court calls us and we appear that the issue of out of court settlement or alternative dispute resolution will arise.”
The minister added that he has not held any meeting with ASUU leadership since the suit was filed before the NIC.
The minister said, “Only the court can direct resumption of negotiation with the leadership of ASUU.”
Ngige noted that ASUU leadership petitioned the ministry to court over the registration of two unions namely the Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA) and the Nigeria Association of Medical and Dental Academics (NAMDA).
He stressed that the university teachers dragged him and the Registrar of Trade Unions before the NIC over moves to withdraw the registration certificate issued ASUU for failing to submit its audited accounts since 2013.
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The minister added “I have not met with the leadership of the union. It is the court that will direct me to go back and resume negotiation with the union. That is why I told the Speaker of the House of Representatives that I cannot come there to do any negotiation at the National Assembly.
“It will be a neglect of the court ruling. Our people have filed all the issues and we are waiting. Two matters are in court: the registration of CONUA and NAMDA. They took me to court. We have also filed our defence and counterclaim.
“The other matter before the court is the non-rendition of ASUU’s audited account since 2013 to date. The Registrar of Trade Unions wrote them in 2020 and they didn’t render any account that 2020.
“I wrote to them (ASUU) in 2022 and asked them to show cause why a proof of Section 15 of Trade Union Act should not merit them the withdrawal of their certificate or cancellation of their certificate of registration as a trade union.
“ASUU ran to court and asked the court to restraint the Registrar of Trade Unions and Minister of Labour and Employment from ever doing that (withdrawing their certificate of registration).”
After ASUU suspended its strike on October 14, 2022, the members of the union were last week paid half salary for the month of October, which irked the lecturers and fears of new strike.
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