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CONUA to sue FG over withheld salaries

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The Congress of University Academics (CONUA) has vowed to sue the Federal Government for withholding eight months salaries of its members.

In a statement released by its National President, Secretary and Publicity Secretary, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, Dr Henry Oripeloye and Dr Ernest Nwoke, respectively, on Tuesday, December 6, CONUA faulted the Ministry of Labour and Employment, headed by Chris Ngige, over the issue.

The Federal Government has refused to pay university lecturers for the period they downed tools, between February 14 and October 14.

The ICIR reports that the Federal Government registered CONUA, a splinter group from ASUU, on October 4, in what many believed was a ploy to stop recurring striking ASUU.

CONUA’s registration followed the government’s threat that it would not pay ASUU for work not done.

While ASUU insisted its members would continue the strike, CONUA said it disagreed and informed the government of its decision to work.

This newspaper also reports that multiple news platforms had claimed the Federal Government had begun to pay CONUA for the eight months the ASUU strike lasted.

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One of the reports quoted the Head of Press and Public Relations at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, saying CONUA members would be paid provided they were not part of the ASUU strike.

The government had paid the lecturers pro rata in early November. The lecturers described what they got as a half-salary.

The payment sparked protests among the two unions, though CONUA hoped it would get the eight-month backlog. ASUU has continued to protest since early November, but the government has maintained its position.

In the statement, CONUA said the government knew its members did not declare any strike nor were involved in the eight-month ASUU strike, which shut down the university system nationwide

The group added: “CONUA formally made its non-involvement in the strike known to the Federal Government in a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, in April 2022.

“In the letter, we made it clear that because CONUA constituted a separate and independent union in the university system, our members did not call for any strike. This was followed by a press conference in Abuja on August 19, 2022, at which it was categorically stated that CONUA was not part of any ongoing strike and that the “No Work No Pay” principle ought not to apply to members of the union.

“CONUA’s expectation is that due to the express and categorical declaration, the government would seamlessly release our members’ outstanding salaries when it resumed the payment of salaries to all university staff in October 2022. But to our dismay, CONUA members were also paid pro-rata salaries in complete disregard to the fact that we were indeed shut out of duties by the strike.”

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The group said it wrote to the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Ministry of Labour and Employment, reminding them that it was an error to lump its members with those who went on strike.

It also expressed shock that the government failed to pay its members’ backlog salaries with their November salary.

According to the group, the government’s action contravenes Section 43 (1b) of the Trade Disputes Act CAP. T8, which notes that “where any employer locks out his workers, the workers shall be entitled to wages and any other applicable remunerations for the period of the lock-out and the period of the lock-out shall not prejudicially affect any rights of the workers being rights dependent on the continuity of the period of employment”.

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Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's the ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022. Contact him via email @ mfatunmole@icirnigeria.org.

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