– Poly management, ASUP trade tackles over conduct of examination
Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Whe the leaders of the Academic Staff Union Of Polytechnics (ASUP) Federal Polytechnic Oko chapter called out its members for a strike on May 24 when the institution was preparing to conduct it first semester exams, the union had assumed it action would bring the polytechnic on its kneels thus forcing the management to meet their demands.
But the resolve by some members of ASUP to save the institution from the frequent disruption of academic calendar and the agitation of the Students Union that students be allowed to take the exams forced the union to return to the classroom.
Investigations revealed that some academic staff did not support the strike because of the effect on the school. ASUP said it embarked on the strike having exhausted all avenues to make the management and Governing Council to meet their demands. The management had already scheduled the exams, set up exams committee and invited the students to write the first semester exams.
The Edcation Report gathered that while on strike ASUP, members were asked to submit questions for the exams by the Head of Departments (HODs) and academic staff short listed for invigilation were invited, they turned up and the exams commenced as the students who were eagerly waiting wrote the exams.
However, when it was obvious that the exams were going on smoothly and some of its members had sabotaged the strike, ASUP suspended the strike hinging its decision on the need to respect the Minister of Education whom it took the issues for resolution.
Speaking to The Education Report, the ASUP chairman, Comrade Godson Okeoma said, “We went on strike to press home our demands which includes payment of promotion arrears, implementation of migration of the lower cadre Consolidated Tertiary Institution Salary Scale (CONTISS 15) and payment of excess workload allowance which at the time of the strike stood at 29 months but now at 30 months.
“It should be noted that these allowances, funds have been released by the Federal Ministry of Finance but the bursar refused to be transparent and faithful in the payment. There was haphazard payment of the arrears. We demanded the arrears paid to entitled members and that if he had done the payment, he should disclose the money released by the federal ministry of finance to Federal Polytechnic Oko. The names of those he paid, the amount, the template for the payment, the schedule of the payment vis-à-vis the amount paid and the amount retained by the bursar.
“On the excess workload allowance, we negotiated with the council and the management. We agreed 10 per cent of basic salary of each academic staff and the agreement was signed by the two parties. Unfortunately at commencement of payment, the school unilaterally decided to pay staff five per cent instead of 10 per cent. The action amounted to violation of the agreement but for the interest of peace we condoned that pending when the next review will come up.
“Unfortunately, since December 2015 these allowances were stopped in all federal polytechnics and that led to nation-wide strike and warning strike by all the polytechnics. To restore normalcy in the system, the Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment convened a meeting with the unions at national level and it was agreed that money will be released by the federal government for the payment of promotion arrears but the payment of excess workload and other allowances should be sustained by the governing councils and management of each of the federal polytechnics until these allowances are captured in the budget.
“The federal ministry of education further convened an emergency meeting of all the council chairmen and they were directed to establish a joint committee made up of the council, the management and ASUP to determine the modality for liquidating the accumulated arrears of excess workload and that the agreed modalities will be signed by all the parties and be brought to the ministry of education by the council on or before January 31st 2018. But meanwhile, the commencement of the payment should start with immediate effect.
On the exams conducted when his member were on strike, the ASUP chairman said, “You know that it is one of the duties of the academic staff to invigilate exams and it is an offence for non-academic staff to invigilate exam. Our members are on strike and they said they wrote exams, I think it is the management that can provide answers to the people they deployed to invigilate the exam.”
Asked who set the exam papers, Okeoma said: “We don’t know who they engaged to conduct the exam but we know it wasn’t our members that conducted the ones they have already written. So I don’t know who they engaged, it is only management who can say how they conducted the exams without lecturers.”
On the implications of such action, he said: “There is this union platform where I referred to what they are doing as a mock exam. I don’t know exactly whether it is a mock exam or true exam. All I know is that the union is on strike and a responsible management is conducting exam without lecturers, so that is the much I know.”
Whether the union has called suspended the strike, Okeoma said: “We have not. The true position is that there was a pressing reason for us to take a break. We expected the council to do the needful, council wouldn’t have come in if management did what it ought to have done. The issues were referred to the council and for council to have reneged, the next parent is the ministry of education. Last week we sent an SOS to the minister for intervention and the minister deserve the respect of being given the chance to imediate and precisely that is what we have done.
Commenting on the development, the chairman, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP), Comrade Innocent Okeke said though his association is not on strike, his members were equally affected by the welfare issues.
He said, “We in SSANIP are not strike but we are also affected by what is on ground. When we get to the congress, members will decide whether the situation has reached the level we will withdraw our services. We’ve been telling management about the welfare issue. I and my exco have not been invited for talk.
The chairman of Non Academic Staff Union (NASU), Comrade Emma Okolie said “His members went on a four days warning strike. It was necessitated by the recurring issues we’ve been having as regards staff welfare. Since September 2015, the issues have continued to linger. CONTISS 15 migration has been implemented in all the federal parastatals and institutions. We do not deny that it has been implemented in Oko, but the partial implementation is an issue that has been causing some rift between the unions and management. Recently the federal government released money for six years that is from 2011 to 2016 and our contemporaries in other schools received substantial sum of money while in our own institution, we cannot say if it is for one month or two months. When someone who is being owed arrears of three years receiveD N24,000 as promotion arrears whereas when they started paying him on that promoted level, the increment on salary was about N18,000 to N19,000 per month and if you are being paid N24,000 as outstanding arrears for three years, then some explanation need to be given to us.
Like the saying that when two elephants fight the grass suffers, the students of the polytechnic were at the receiving end of the face-off between the staff and management of the institution as some were thrown into confusion resulting in their missing the exams.
President of the Student Union, Comrade Akuchie Izuchukwu said if not for the incessant strike , students would have been in their second semester and with the current situation, some run the risk of missing going for service (NYSC) at the same time with their contemporaries in other schools.
Akuchie said, “The students that missed the exams, there will be supplementary exams for them. Though it was an impromptu exams, it was because of the situation in the school. That was why we demanded for the governing council to intervene and I want to use this medium to thank the council and management for their quick response. They lis- tened and acted. We are back and the exams were conduted while the strike was still on.
Reacting to the issues raised, the acting rector, Dr. Izuchukwu Onu who spoke through the Public Relations Officer, Mr. Obini Onuchukwu, said: “On May 24th ASUP embarked on strike to protest non payment of some allowances which include non payment of excess workload and few other agitations. ASUP resolved to suspend the strike. All the unions on campus are working in full capacity that is the situation now.”
“I want to put on record that we have had the best of relationship with our unions, we have a very vibrant, very thorough and most union friendly governing council headed by a former National Assembly member, Chief Lasbrey Amadi. He came about a year ago and started with reconciliation of warring parties and he restored peace.
“ASUP made a complaint of about one or two unpaid allowances which are about the welfare of the members through the management. So they made their presentation through the head of management and you know the head of management do not have the power to decide what happens to their demands and so he forwarded it to the council for consideration.
“The council directed its committee responsible for union welfare to digest the request, make necessary inquiries and looking at the polytechnic and other areas on how the demands will be addressed and the committee has met severally. They are working hard the larger council its report but ASUP was impatient to wait for the outcome of the council’s meeting and embarked on strike.
On the issue of the conduct of the exams when ASUP was on strike, Onuchukwu said, “Don’t forget our HODs are working, our head of academic departments are working. Lecturers are expected to turn in their questions and don’t forget that we are using Computer Based Test.
“To answer you directly, the lecturers set their exams, HODs will definitely do their work. They called the lecturers to turn in their questions and they did at the right time.”
“I tell you no student missed the exam except due to ill health. We have a forum through which students are communicated at every given time. Even before the strike they already know that exams will commence, so they were duly informed. When there was an adjustment in the timetable, they were informed through the channels and as I talk with you, the management, the HODs have not received any complaint of anybody missing the exams.