With barely three weeks to the first semester examination at Federal Polytechnic Bida, a strike action by the lecturers which stalled all academic and some extra-curricular activities has been called off.
Members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) in the institution had down tooled in protest over two months’ unpaid allowances. The union gave the management six weeks’ ultimatum to settle the arrears or face industrial action. ASUP chairman, Dr Umar Saganuwan, told newsmen late February that the union had earlier proposed to embark on a strike action in January but for a letter management received from the Ministry of Education directing it to pay its members. He explained that the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, ASUP President Mr Usman Dutse and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, jointly signed the letter for the payment. “The letter directed that management should continue to pay our allowances, and also directed that the backlog of arrears should be paid in good time,” he had said. Our correspondent learnt that the Federal Government had in 2009 signed an agreement with ASUP following complaint by the executive that its members, despite being academic staff, were collecting the same allowance as non-teaching staff. Allowances such as excess workload, hazards and academic were introduced. The agreement stipulated that 7 percent of salaries should serve as academic allowance. However at the time the agreement was reached, the budget for that year had already been prepared. So, polytechnics were asked to pay the allowances. The Rector of Federal Polytechnic Bida, Dr Abubakar Dzukogi, said on Tuesday that the institution paid about N20 million monthly as allowances, based on that agreement, from school fees. He said the management spent about N321 million between April 2017 and January 2018 alone. “It has been a source of agitation and face-off between the management and the union,” he admitted. “When we collect school fees we try to pay. For instance when we collected the school fees for 2016, we paid the backlog for 2015; when we collect that of 2017, we paid the backlog for 2016 and when we collect that of 2018 we settled part of 2017,” he explained. He said before the 2018 session started, allowances were cleared from April 2017 to January 2018, adding that there were two months’ remaining arrears to pay. “It is based on the remaining two months that they decided to embark on strike,” he added. The rector said aside the allowances, the management still had to pay for electricity, buy diesel, provide water and other essential services. He said unless the allowances are reviewed downwards, through internal arrangement, there would be problem of sustainability. The Governing Council, led by Professor Mohammed Sani Yahaya, tried to find a way to resolve the issue by setting up a committee to look at the allowances internally. The committee discovered that there was no basis in the payment of some of the allowances, especially that on excess workload, which was not part of the items negotiated in 2009. “And when the committee came up with its report, the union started fighting with the council,” the rector explained. The ASUP chairman agreed that members were irked by the council’s reference to some of the allowances as illegal and uncalled for. “That was the main reason we embarked on strike because the management was merely playing with our intelligence,” he said. He said there was lack of sincerity on the part of the management on the issue and that the school had been making enough money from school fees and should be able to meet the obligation. He said ASUP would welcome an amicable resolution of the impasse. However, in a telephone call yesterday, the chairman said an agreement has been reached with the polytechnic. “We started receiving SMS-Alerts for the two months arrears last Friday and decided to call off the strike,” he said. A parent, who spoke to our reporter lamented that it was uncharitable to close down the institution and send students home “few days to exam.