Workers struggle gain concession in OAU
Workers struggle gain concession in OAU
Odun addressing SSANU congress
By Kola Ibrahim
For about two months, the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) has been in the grip of an industrial dispute between the workers and the University management. Members of both the Non-Academic Staff Unions (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) are fighting over pay and conditions. While NASU embarked on strike, SSANU members took the option of ‘work-to-rule’ against the reluctance of their national leadership to sanction a strike.
The NASU however suspended its strike that had lasted several weeks on Friday, August 3. This was sequel to appeals from the State Commissioner of Police and some Chiefs and monarchs in the State. There was an agreement to pay 3 months out of the 20 months arrears that the workers were owed for instance. However SSANU members are still on ‘work-to-rule’ which means a substantial aspect of the University’s administrative functions would still be affected unless their demands are met.
Even though the University is on break, the strike including SSANU’s ‘work â€“ to â€“ rule’ was strong enough to force the University to postpone resumption indefinitely. The members of both unions form the backbone of the administrative and practical management of the University and its utilities. Without them, not a single knob in the University can turn.
SSANU members’ grouse is about two steps differential and pension deduction. NASU’s grouse is about the university administration’s reneging on an agreement reached with the union over the payments of allowances amongst other demands.
The unions’ 13-point demands were: 1) 2 steps differential between teaching and non-teaching staff, (2) 10% security incentive allowance, (3) 15% salary increase, (4) pension deduction, (5) disparity on number of years of promotion,(6)part time courses/study leave, (7) study leave with/without pay, (8) implementation and payment of hazard allowance, (9) resuscitation of 13th month salary, (10) housing/refurbishing loan for workers, (11) shortage of staff and annual leave, (12) training/retraining of staff and (13) factors affecting promotion of staff
The university administration initially tried to hide under the flimsy excuse of the absence of the university Governing Council as a reason for its inability to meet with the workers’ demands. This was however refuted by the unions with the argument that the absence of the Governing Council has not halted the salaries and allowances of the Vice-Chancellors and other members of his cabinet, neither has it halted continuous award of contracts running into millions of naira.
During the struggle, congresses and protest marches were organized. The press campaign was however low as there was no serious attempt to popularize the struggle even within the university community through educative materials like press releases, leaflets and posters.
At some point, the administration attempted to clampdown on the workers through a circular issued by the university registrar which gave an ultimatum for the workers to resume work or rather stay away from the university premises. This only provoked more anger amongst the workers and prompted the unions to begin holding some of their congresses in front of the University’s Senate building.
One thing that was striking about NASU’s strike was the militant spirit displayed by its members. The workers turned out in large numbers for every meeting of the congresses. Some unacceptable agreements, reached between the leadership and the administration, were rejected on two different occasions by mass of workers at the congress.
Members of the OAU branch of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have been intervening in the struggle with leaflets and our paper. As a mark of the recognition by the workers of the role the DSM has played, the branch secretary Comrade Odun Eniayekan spoke at the congresses of SSANU and NASU and also at a media conference organized by NASU to drum public support for the struggle.
He took the opportunity on every occasion to stress the need for a united struggle of workers in struggle. This is more so given the atmosphere of mutual distrust existing among the unions. One common observation made in the struggle was that the workers in both unions felt they could fight without having to seek solidarity from the other unions. In fact, some workers saw members of other unions as enemies and saboteurs of the struggle
Comrade Odun also stressed the need to link with the struggle a demand for adequate education funding and democratic running of the university with elected representatives of workers and students. There was high demand for our SD after each solidarity speech. Over 300 copies of leaflets were circulated and 60 copies of our paper – the Socialist Democracy (SD) – were sold at the workers’ congresses. Below is a leaflet issued by the branch ago to the striking workers.
Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
Ile-Ife, Osun State Chapter
STRUGGLE FOR TOTAL VICTORY
- OAU administration must immediately meet the demands of these workers
- for a united front of staff unions – SSANU, NASU; and solidarity from ASUU and NAAT
- for educative materials like leaflets and posters; and aggressive press campaign to popularize the struggle
We in the Democratic Socialist Movement commend the resolute spirit of the workers under the banner of SSANU, who have not waivered despite recent threatening attacks from the university administration. We also show solidarity with the struggle and decry the adamant stance of the university administration, which is responsible for the protracted nature of the struggle.
The demands of SSANU have remained two-steps differential between teaching and non-teaching staff, pension deduction and payment and implementation of hazard allowance. These are rightful demands that have been agreed to at one time or the other but breached by the university administration of the institution.
This is meant to reverse the divisive policy of governments to pit one section of university workers against others by introducing different pay for workers with the same qualification at the point of entry. The two-step differential payment is meant to smoothen this government-created disparity by ensuring that workers entering work with the same qualification in the university get the same basic salary. This however does not eliminate specific nature of different jobs or stop workers in different sections from seeking for various allowances that are peculiar to their nature of work. This gain for non-academic workers has been won for some years now.
However, the Information gathered from the unions has it that the money for the implementation of the differential payment is in the budget of the university (for which it collects subvention from government) but, in the wisdom or otherwise of the university administration, it has refused to implement it. The money is said to have been hanging in one personal account while the workers are left in anguish. This is not strange as monies collected by the university administration through for instance the exorbitant school fees have not reflected in improved studying facilities or better living conditions for students. While the university administration claimed that it could not implement the demands of workers because of non-constitution of the Governing Council, several projects worth millions of naira are being implemented without the so-called Council.
This again brings to fore the position of the DSM that workers should include in their demands the democratic involvement of staff (academic and non-academic) and students in all decision-making structures of the university. This will mean making the resources of the university open to the elected representatives of staff, students and other stakeholders for democratic planning and proper utilization of funds. While we recognize the fact that the university, and indeed the education sector is being chronically underfunded by the anti-poor capitalist governments, we believe that whatever is available must be accounted for and properly utilized, and this can only be done by democratic planning and control by elected representative of workers. Even, if the capitalist governments are compelled to fund education properly, without democratic control and planning, the resources will be looted away by capitalist politicians and their appointed stooges in decision- and policy-making organs.
Pension deduction: A fraudulent policy
In the first instance, we in the DSM are opposed to the dubious pension deduction policy where workers’ salaries are handed over to the capitalist big business and financial gamblers to make quick profits while workers’ future is threatened whenever the businesses collapse. Of course, employers also expected to contribute some amounts to the contributory pension, it is clear that this will be recouped from workers through more exploitative means by the capitalist employers. Thus, the so-called contributory pension is a dupe for the workers. Already over N2.5 trillion has been raked from workers’ salaries under the pension policy, while a sizable proportion of this amount is being invested in the unstable stock and capital markets. This means that when these investments go awry, workers’ future will be sacrificed. We are of the opinion that workers should be paid a living pension without having to deduct from their salaries. The fact that most of these workers have dedicated most of their life to the service of the country is enough reason for them to be adequately remunerated after service. We however campaign that governments’ and employers’ funds for pension must be administered by democratically convened body comprising elected representatives of workers and pensioners at all levels.
We thus consider the double deduction by the university administration under the claim of being the employer, after the federal government had deducted the same from workers’ salaries as adding insult upon injury. We consider it as an attempt to subject the workers to “double jeopardy”. Such an unconscionable act of the university administration is not different from the current national pension scam.
The management’s response: An attempt to undermine the workers struggle
We condemn the iron-fist method of the university administration of ordering the workers to resume work without meeting their demands. The advertorial issued by the administration about the agreements signed by the association of vice chancellors and SSANU national leadership, compelling them to suspend any industrial action for two weeks shows the desperation of the administration to avoid the searchlight over its management of university’s resources. While workers are not averse to negotiation, it is clear that the administration is simply looking for a means to defeat workers, without addressing their demands.
SSANU national leadership must support the struggle
The national leadership of SSANU should support the struggle of its members instead of acting as proxy of the university administration and the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU). The advertorial referred to above which was signed by the deputy national president of SSANU, asked workers to stop industrial actions forthwith, even when it (SSANU national leadership) has not had any official meeting with its local branch. While we are not averse to negotiation as said earlier, we believe that the basic principle of unionism demands that the national leadership should have first interacted and visited the branch to have a feel of local members’ views before signing agreement with the opponents of its members. This again underscores the bureaucracy within the labour movement where rank-and-file members’ views are secondary in decision making. This shows the need for a democratic reclaiming of trade union movement by rank and file members.
Therefore, the national leadership of SSANU should prioritize mobilizing the ranks of its members and organize a national campaign to meet the demands of its members, as the demands of its OAU members are also yet to be implemented in most other institutions. A national struggle of the union will gain echo.
Strategies for Victory
Negotiation to us will depend on balance of force between the contending groups. If workers leave the struggle to negotiation by their leaders without undertaking mass actions like rallies, protest marches, press campaign, etc, they can hardly get much from such negotiation.
To make the struggle effective and achieve its set out demands, workers must build solid programmes and mass actions with educative materials like leaflets and posters to mobilize the support of other sections of the working people for the struggle. Rallies, protest marches, symposia are also important tools that should be employed by the unions. Press and media campaign through issuance of regular press statements and press conferences should also be undertaken in the struggle. Of utmost importance is the need for a joint struggle of workers. This is important with the understanding that the economic demands and interests of workers are interconnected.
ASUU must also show solidarity with the unions
It is also important that ASUU as a sister union show solidarity with the SSANU and NASU struggle to avoid a situation in which the management will try to pit their members against the members of SSANU and NASU. More important is the need uphold the tradition of joint solidarity amongst unions.
Workers must also realize that the current capitalist exploitative system ensures education is underfunded in a bid to commercialize and ultimately privatize education. It is the underlining cause of the poor pay for workers. Political office holders continue to ensure underfunding of education in order to loot the nation’s treasury and ultimately establish private institutions. Therefore, the demands of workers, if met will only be retrieved through other means of fee hikes, taxes and other neoliberal capitalist policies of the ruling elites, if workers do not have political platform to take power and implement policies in the interests of working and poor people.
However, free education, health care, decent and gainful employment and other basic social necessities are only possible when the resources of the society are placed under democratic collective ownership. This will mean committing public resources that are being looted by politicians in major political parties and their business associates to the public and social infrastructures. These socialist programmes will require the need to firstly reject all the current capitalist political parties (CPC, ACN, PDP, LP, APGA, etc) and then build a political alternative that can enthrone a working and poor people’s government that can stand for such programmes.
Join the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) today!
We enjoin you to join us in the DSM to build this kind of mass based political platform of the working people. Currently, the DSM works in the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), which stand for these pro-workers’ programmes, as a step towards building a mass based working people’s party that can meet the yearnings and aspirations of the toiling but poor masses. We enjoin you to join the SPN with us.