By Marcus Ikechukwu
The Federal Government and the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may return to the negotiating table next week to possibly iron out grievances that has necessitated strike spanning almost three months, Elendu Reports has learnt
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, confirmed the information while having a separate meeting with the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) in Abuja.
Ngige noted that the multiple industrial disputes in the education sector could have been averted if the unions in the sector took advantage of his open-door policy like the health unions.
He said the open door culminated in the peace currently enjoyed in the health sector.
The minister, however, decried the rivalry between the two education unions, noting that everybody was important in the university system.
He gave assurance that the government was tackling all the disputes in the education sector, knowing that none of the unions could function effectively without the other.
Ngige said: “If you are from any union, you don’t need to book appointment to see me. The doctors started using that advantage, JOHESU also did the same.
“That is why the Health Sector is quiet. But the education unions don’t take advantage of my open door policy.
“We don’t have to cry over spilt milk. Let us look at your issues to see the ones we can handle immediately, the ones we can do in the medium term, and the ones we can do in the long term.
“There are certain ones that are over and above me that are not in my hands to do.
“My job is to prepare an agreement after conciliation on what you have agreed with your employers, the Federal Ministry of Education, put timelines and monitor them, to see whether the results will be there.”
The minister added that, as a conciliator, he managed the unions in measured steps.
“That is why I want to take all of you holistically and I ask for your cooperation. When I finish with you today, I will continue with ASUU next week.
“I have met NASU and SSANU yesterday (Thursday) and they were happy. I want you people to be happy as we leave here,” he said.
Ngige noted that what was causing the rumpus in the industrial milieu was economic, bordering on money and welfare, including old arrears and 2009 renegotiation of Conditions of Service.
“I believe that if we talk frankly to ourselves, knowing fully well that the economy is not good and that you should have money that can take you home.
“With an open mind, we will arrive at something. Once we arrive at something, it will be done,” the minister said.
He, however, noted that the renegotiation of the 2009 agreement would not be immediate because the Education Ministry had put in place a committee to handle it.