Sen. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, revealed that his department chose voluntary conciliation over arbitration to end the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) strike in order to avoid further delaying the process.
According to a press release provided to media by the Ministry’s Head of Press and Public Relations, Olajide Oshundun, the Minister made this disclosure while fielding questions from reporters at the Joint Workshop on International Labour Standards and Dispute Resolutions, which was held in Abuja and was put on by the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The Minister, according to the statement, could have brought the case before the IAP or the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), but he exercised his discretion to determine if doing so would prolong the time it would take for the disagreement to be resolved by a court.
He recalled that on February 14 ASUU began its strike, and on February 22 and March 1 he began voluntary conciliation.
He asserts that at the second meeting, the majority of the issues raised by the 2020 Memorandum of Action (MOA), which was signed by ASUU and the Ministry of Education with participation from other government agencies, had been resolved, leaving only two.
Ngige 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 at the Federal 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 that once a strike starts, the Trade Dispute Act (TDA) provision’s on how to adjudicate the industrial action, take effect.
He claimed that the Ministry of Education was still in charge of the situation because he had forwarded it to them.
“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 opening remarks, Ngige had said that the workshop was part of his ministry’s ongoing reforms because, up until that point, certain arbitrators had difficulty carrying out their duties because they did not completely comprehend the principles of the panel (IAP).
As one of the required stages in trade dispute resolution, he described arbitration as starting with internal mechanisms when they are present in any organization, moving on to mediation, conciliation, arbitration, and adjudication by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, with the Appeal Court serving as the final arbiter.
“In addition to the workshop billed to reform the way and manner of discharging the statutory function of the IAP, the labour laws have been worked on by tripartite body, comprising the government, employers and workers’ representatives in the form of the two federations of Trade Unions, to take on board the new developments in labour legislations and fill in identified anomalies and lacunae in our current labour laws. The bills are at the stage of proceeding to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for further necessary action before going to the National Assembly for consideration. The passage of the bills will be the new dawn of labour administration in the country.”
According to the statement, Abduhamid Ibrahim, the Chief Registrar of IAP, stated in his welcome speech that the workshop’s goal was to give IAP members and its management staff a special opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in contemporary skills related to the prevention and resolution of labor disputes in accordance with international labor standards.
Ibrahim applauded the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment for using social dialogue and conciliation to settle the majority of labor conflicts. The ministry is led by Sen. Chris Nwabueze-Ngige, a pragmatic official.