Lecturers under the auspices of Joint Unions of Plateau Tertiary Institutions (JUPTI) recently embarked on an indefinite strike after their representatives failed to reach an agreement with the state government on certain labour issues, thereby leaving the fate of thousands of students in the balance.
Almost certainly, the lecturers would be off the job for as long as it takes to reach a deal, and definitely, the academic calendar would be shifted and consequently the graduation period of many students.
In 2018, an agreement was reached between the state’s tertiary institutions and the state government with JUPTI alleging that the Gov. Simon Bako Lalong-led administration had failed to honour it. Two meetings in February, 2019, had little progress even when JUPTI suspended an earlier strike on the assurance from the head of service that its grievances would be addressed as soon as the 2019 general elections were over.
The elections have come and gone and the state government, according to JUPTI, had not shown commitment to honour the agreement which necessitated the latest strike.
All the state-owned tertiary institutions, except the Plateau State University (PLASU), have been shut down. PLASU, according to the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) Chairman of the Plateau State Polytechnic, Simji Lumpyo, was not under JUPTI and received its monthly subvention from government regularly.
The institutions involved in the strike are the Plateau State Polytechnic, Barkin Ladi, College of Health Technology, Zawan, College of Health Technology, Pankshin, College of Arts, Science and Remedial Studies, Kurgwi, College of Agriculture, Mikang, and College of Education, Gindiri.
Their grievances are on cooperative and union dues deductions, hitches from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) which they want to be exempted from, pensions and gratuity of members, peculiar academic allowances, among others.
The Chairman of JUPTI, Paul Dakogol, said the union wrote several letters to the state government on their demands but that they were always being deferred.
Dakogol said the state government was not serious about saving the state-owned institutions from collapse, adding that despite series of meetings with the Head of Service, Director of Labour in the Office of the Head of Service and representative of the Accountant General of the state, the effort had not yielded any positive result.
He said, “We discussed a lot of issues, including the fact that we are under-staffed; we told them our concerns on the continuous delay in the payment of 24 months pension arrears, we also deliberated on peculiar allowance of five per cent and seven per cent and this allowance is meant to cater for our academic research, journals publication, field trips, hazard and non-clinical allowances, yet nothing was done.”
Mr. Dakogol also said the TSA was holding back the institutions rather than serving as a respiratory tract to them which was why the union was against the implementation of the policy.
“We are concerned about its operation where 25 per cent and operational charges are forcefully and illegally withheld by the Ministry of Finance thereby leaving the institutions with less than 70 per cent of the revenue to meet up overheads,” he said.
Dakogol claimed that records available indicated that in the last three years of the implementation of the TSA in tertiary institutions, over N350m had been withheld by the state Office of the Accountant General through the compulsory 25 per cent deduction, thereby leaving the institutions in financial difficulties.
He further said, “That is the reason we are now demanding that the institutions be either exempted from the TSA or the automation should be 100 per cent.”
For the time being, the state government has continued to plead with JUPTI to call off the strike while negotiation for the best way forward continued.
The state Head of Service, Azi Izam, said many of the problems as stated by the union predated the present administration and that all its demands could not be solved at the same time due to shortage of funds.
“Government is working hard to see that the issues are resolved. Most of their demands have to do with funds, and the government is making endeavours to ensure that funds are made available to tackle them,” he assured.
He, however, said the salaries of members of the union had been constant, adding that, “Among their demands is a case that has to do with some retirees and deceased staff. The challenge we have with resolving that is hitches with the account numbers which were mostly incorrect. But there are so many other things that government has put in place, including the recent approval of recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff.”
Izam further said although some of the issues such as TSA could not be immediately resolved since it was a Federal Government policy, but that there was some level of progress in the discussions with the union.
He added that Gov. Lalong had directed the Ministry of Finance to advise him accordingly regarding the TSA.
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