26 February 2013

Nigeria: Labour-Education Ministry Tussle Deepens

* Union issues 21-day ultimatum

Linda Eroke

The lingering face-off between the Ministry of Education and the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has deepened as the latter has handed down a 21-day ultimatum to Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmad Rufa'i, over unresolved outstanding labour issues.

The union accused the ministry of bluntly refusing to convey a meeting to discuss and resolve outstanding labour issues in the ministry since 2009 despite several correspondences made by its leadership, warning that at the expiration of the ultimatum the union will embark on series of industrial action to press home its demands.

It lamented that the ministry had been reluctant in expanding the frontiers of opportunities for its staff members by not creating new vacancies that will ensure the promotion of employees.

The result it stated is that "hundreds of highly skilled and qualified personnel in the headquarters in Abuja and those at the outstations throughout the country have stagnated over the years since they cannot move up the career ladder while the top hierarchy of the management appears unperturbed by the litany of complaints in respect of promotion prospects".

The union, while decrying the non-payment of promotion arrears, explained that "There are instances where the management of the federal ministry of education went through the motion of conducting promotion examinations for deserving officers. The reality on ground is that those who excelled in such tests are not paid their new emoluments commensurate with their new status nor placed in the appropriate grade levels.

"Indeed, there are several cases where officers on grade level 10 for instance who pass promotion interview and are elevated to grade level 12 are later on subjected to further promotion examination and uplifted to grade level 13 and then to grade level 14.

"In spite of such series of promotions, the officers in question are still being paid salary as grade level 10 staff in spite of their complaints that they should be properly remunerated. This practice, to say the least, smacks of insensitivity on the part of the Management as it creates the impression that the welfare of workers is of little or no value in the Federal Ministry of Education. Besides, this policy of denying employees their legitimate rights negates the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, and is capable of leading to a great deal of frustration in the workplace," the union stated.

Other grievances of the union include inappropriate placement of officers, punitive posting of union officials without paying them due allowances and non-payment of entitled allowances to officer that took part in the mandatory training organised by the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation in 2010.

In the letter signed by the union's Secretary General, Alade Lawal, the union lamented that several of its members in Federal Government Colleges were victimised for union activities and that all efforts to redress the injustices had so far proven abortive.

While the detailing names of the affected individuals and the schools concerned, the union said: "You will recall that when the National Leadership of the Association, led by its National President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, paid you a courtesy visit on September 18, 2012, and tabled some of these issues, you promised that they would be addressed. Five months after, nothing has been done and all reminders letters sent to your office by the Association and duly acknowledged have not been responded to."

It explained that the union had reached an agreement with the management of the federal ministry of education to convey a quarterly meeting through which outstanding and nascent labour issues in the ministry can be exhaustively discussed and resolved in line with contemporary trade union best practice in but regretted that no such meeting has been summoned by the ministry since 2009.

The union further informed the ministry that the patience of the national leadership of the association has been overstretched and completely exhausted on these matters, stressing that it can no longer continue to keep the agitated workers at bay.

"Since the union has exhausted all avenues to bring the management of the federal ministry of education to the dialogue table to discuss and resolve the above lingering labour issues without success, the Minister of Education may wish to resolve them within 21 days from the date of the receipt of this letter failing which the union will embark on series of trade union actions including strike to press home its demands," it warned.

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