Journalism of Courage

Pay varsity lecturers salary backlog or risk litigation, SERAP tells Buhari

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) which made the call, gave the Federal Government seven days within which to comply or risk litigation.

“Paying half salaries to ASUU members solely for exercising their human rights is patently unlawful and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and international standards”

President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to reverse the illegal deductions from the salaries of members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for October 2022 and pay them the backlog of salaries for the period they were on strike.

Pointedly, Buhari is requested urgently to direct the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, and the Acting Accountant General of the Federation, Mr Sylva Okolieaboh, to pay ASUU members full salaries for the duration of the eight-month-old strike.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) which made the call, gave the Federal Government seven days within which to comply or risk litigation.

Persecondnews recalls that the Federal Government had recently paid half-salaries to members of ASUU for the month of October, 2022 with some professors reportedly receiving salaries ranging from N71,000 to N121,000 for October.

In the open letter dated 5 November, 2022 and signed by the Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP said: “Paying half salaries to ASUU members solely for exercising their human rights is patently unlawful and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and international standards.

“The alleged deductions from the salaries of ASUU members also amount to punishing them for exercising their right to strike. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government

“The deductions are illegal and disproportionate. The deductions may also be construed as a deliberate attempt to take away the right to strike, and to make ASUU a lame duck.

“The right to strike implies the right of workers not to be punished for striking. ASUU members do not therefore forfeit their salaries because they exercise their right to strike.”

“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter.

“Illegal deductions from the salaries of ASUU members may also violate the right to work, and to respect of the dignity inherent in a human being.”

“The deductions are also incompatible with the prohibition of all forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment.”

It further stated: “The deductions also implicitly violate the right of members of ASUU to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including to the continuous improvement of living conditions.

“Strikes are an essential means available to workers and their organizations to protect their interests. The right to strike is an intrinsic element of the right of association recognized under the Nigerian Constitution, ILO conventions, and human rights treaties to which the country is a state party.

“Indeed, the right to strike and that of entitlement to full pay for days of strike are essential elements of trade union rights.

“Paying ASUU members or any workers half salaries solely for lawfully and peacefully exercising their right to strike constitutes an impermissible restriction on the right to freedom of association including the right to strike, which is an essential element in the principle of collective bargaining.

“The application of any purported ‘no work, no pay’ rule to deduct from the salaries of ASUU members would be clearly inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution and international standards.

“The right to strike is a keystone of modern industrial society. No society which lacks that right can be democratic. Any society which seeks to become democratic must secure that right.”

Restating international organizations’ positions on strikes, SERAP said:“The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has stated that the imposition of sanctions for strike action is not conducive to harmonious labour relations.

“According to the Resolution concerning the Abolition of Anti-Trade Union Legislation in the States Members of the International Labour Organisation, member states including Nigeria must ‘ensure the effective and unrestricted exercise of trade union rights, including the right to strike by workers.’

“Another ILO resolution, titled, ‘Resolution Concerning Trade Union Rights and their Relation to Civil Liberties’ called for action in a number of ways ‘with a view to ensuring full and universal respect for trade union rights including the right to strike in their broadest sense.’

“Protecting fundamental human rights including the right to strike is not simply about States fulfilling their legal obligations. It is also about them creating democratic and equitable societies that are sustainable in the long run.

“Without protecting a right to strike, freedom of association, in particular the right to organize activities for the purpose of promoting and protecting workers’ interests, cannot be fully realized.

“Our requests are brought in the public interest, and in keeping with the requirements of the Nigerian Constitution; and the country’s international obligations including under the International Labour Organization [ILO] Conventions, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Nigeria is a state party.”

SERAP, however, noted that ASUU in October suspended its eight months industrial action following interventions from the Court of Appeal which upheld an earlier decision from the National Industrial Court.

Persecondnews also recalls that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, struck a deal with the university teachers precedent to the suspension of the strike.

Well-meaning Nigerians have called on Gbajabiamila to intervene in non-payment of the salary backlog.

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