Ending LASPOTECH’s workers’ pay battle

The Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH) chapters of the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) have been on strike since January 21, over the non-implementation of the Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Scale (CONTISS) 15. The unions have vowed not to resume until management accedes to their demands. However, the implementation is not so straight forward report KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE and BUSOLA SEBIOTIMO.

For almost four months now, members of the Non-Academic Staff Union(NASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian  Polytechnics(SSANIP) have been on strike at the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH).

They have refused to work since January 21, 2019 because of what they called the management’s refusal to implement the Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Scale (CONTISS) 15.

The implementation battle which has been on since 2014 also involved the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP).  They are seeking the implementation of the CONTISS 15 to enable them migrate from one grade level to a higher one as approved by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

He said: “CONTISS 15 migration was implemented for those at the top of the ladder. It is a new salary level. Prior to CONTISS 15, the highest level salary anyone can attain is 14. So from level 12 upwards, it was implemented leaving 11 and below. That has been on since 2004 in Lagos State Polytechnic.

NASU chairman, Comrade Semiu Akinlawon Fasasi, told The Nation that the workers of the institution started demanding payment based on the signing of the Federal Government’s 2009 agreement with ASUP, NASU, and SSANIP in 2013.

“Agitation at the national level came saying that those below the ladder should be moved too so it was eventually agreed in 2013 meaning everyone was moved a level  higher. The approval came in 2013 for all the polytechnics in Nigeria but it was said to have taken effect 2009 which means all the polytechnics will be having arrears from 2009.”

The issue of payment of arrears has caused contention at LASPOTECH since then, resulting in numerous strikes by the three unions.  ASUP went on strike on May 2017; June 5 to20; and August 1 to 15, 2017 over the matter which even went before the National Industrial Court (NIC). However, presently, ASUP has been disbanded because of the internal crisis between the union and the management.  It is not presently on ground in the institution so the lecturers are not on strike. NASU and SSANIP have, nevertheless, sworn to continue the struggle to the very end.

The institution’s management and the Lagos State government, which owns the polytechnic, are not in agreement about payment of CONTISS 15 arrears (accrued for about 87 months and totaling about N1.7 billion as at 2017).

The unions claimed that the Lagos State government agreed to pay the arrears following its approval of the migration to CONTISS 15 in 2014.

However, the cost of the migration to CONTISS 15 for the workers was more than the institution’s subvention of N153, 731,200 million at that time.

The Nation gathered that in 2017 following the state government’s approval of the CONTISS 15 migration, the then Rector, Dr Abdulazeez Lawal, set up a committee to investigate modalities for migration to CONTISS 15 in 2014. The committee was chaired by the current rector of the polytechnic, Yinka Sogunro, who was then Deputy Rector.

When it submitted its report in June 2014, the committee noted that migration to CONTISS 15 would cost the polytechnic N19,718, 559 monthly above the institution’s wage bill.

The government then increased the subvention to N210,000,000 in June 2016.  The monthly wage bill, at N229,401,307.00, was still higher than the subvention of N210,000,000 resulting in a shortfall of N19,401, 301, which the institution was told to use its Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR) to settle.

The institution however had a debt profile of N2,778, 549,846,21 and the government directed that 50 per cent of the IGR be used to repay part of the debt monthly – further reducing funds to pay the CONTISS 15.

Since Sogunro became Rector in June 2016, the workers claimed he has worked against the implementation of CONTISS 15.

Fasasi said the Sogunro-led management claimed the increased subvention did not include the N19 million to implement the new salary scheme, despite the Governing Council’s predisposition to implement the scale.

He said: “At a point, the council was predisposed to implement it without us (union) knowing the Rector was vehemently against it.  OnNovember 8 (2016), the council pronounced implementation. The October salary was effected with the implementation.”

The enjoyment of the new salary structure was short-lived.  In February 2017, about three months later, the unions began agitating for arrears, which a source told The Nation the government said it did not owe.  The unions also claimed the Rector started seeking reversal of implementation of the CONTISS 15.

Fasasi said: “We’ve had 87 months accrued arrears. By February 2017, we approached the management on how the arrears would be paid because the approval that came with the increased salary scheme had highlighted modalities on the ways they should go about the payment of the arrears. It stressed they are increasing the subvention for the new salary scheme and payment for part of the arrears.

“We said the management should pay the arrears in staggered form. Unfortunately, the management was nursing the reversal of the implementation, stating that it was done by force.”

The NASU chairman claimed the management dragged the unions to court for forceful implementation of the new salary scheme with the purpose of reversing it. He said this happened despite the Deputy Governor Dr Idiat Adebule saying the implementation should continue.

“Before court, deputy governor, Dr. Adebule invited all parties-arms of government involved in labour matters, unions, Governing Council, management, office of special adviser on education to mediate. She said she has the approval of the Governor that the implementation should continue. It is only the arrears that she does not have the approval to speak on and we should suspend strike. We promised to end it.”

Fasasi and Mrs Adetayo Ukomadu a Trustee of SSANIP, accused the institution’s management of persecuting members of the unions since talks broke down in 2017.  They said many have been demoted, harassed, and imprisoned for spurious reasons.

He said: “The management started picking persecuting staff that participated in protests one by one giving them suspension, demotion, interdiction, victimising leadership and membership, everybody now works in fear, the situation was so tensed.

“Once, the rector called a town hall meeting, he picked one of the SSANIP EXCO up that he called him after the meeting had ended and the person did not answer; that was how the person was demoted.

“Another one, a NASU member had people pursuing him around which he alerted people about but he was taken for raising false alarm and was taken to disciplinary staff committee and he was demoted. Every well-meaning Ikorodu people intervened but he was still demoted. Members were accused of deflating a tyre and they were all demoted.”

Mrs Ukomadu added: “Union members are being scattered all over, I live just in front of the school and I’ve now been moved to Isolo campus and so many others too.

“A system that will demote, suspend, dismiss, disengage, interdict with no reason, even advise a staff to divorce her husband, and that woman had to step out of her husband’s house before the interdiction was lifted. It is a display of madness.”

Since January, when the CONTISS 15 was reversed, and salaries reduced, the union leaders said many workers began to suffer financially.

“Leaving court December 2018, the management reversed the implementation January 2019. You can imagine the salary that has been enjoyed since 2016! All the finances of the workers had been based on that salary; members had taken loans. The management even introduced FCMB – that staff should take loans and all.

“On reversal, the finances of staff members crumbled.  We have people that take N4,000, N2,500, or nothing at all. Some people have loans to service, leaving them with negative balance. Even the management recruited some lecturers advertising the new salary scheme. The lecturers were not left out too; they belong to ASUP, sheep without shepherd.”

Fasasi also said that since the strike in January, many workers who agitated, including himself, were unilaterally sacked.

“The first action the management took when we started the struggle January 21st was by 23rd, the management issued disengagement letter to four of us, me inclusive, for agitation. We were never called for discussion, even for the reversal. Taking decision for generality of the workers, we have never been called for a meeting for the last three years to discuss anything. They have decided to be using their tactics to oppress us.

“We have decided now that this management must go. He manipulates the governing council to his whims and caprices. The management controls the council so both have to go,” he said.

Responding to the crisis, Public Relations Officer of the institution, Mr Olanrewaju Kuye, said the school would take action on the strike after a 14-man committee set up by the Lagos State Head of Service (HOS) complete their investigation.

He further said that lectures were still ongoing and everything is peaceful in the school, and it was only aggrieved union members that were complaining as lecturers were still faithfully teaching.

“It is only the aggrieved union members that are saying the rector must go. Lectures are still going on. Members of the ASUP dissolved their EXCO members on their own as against claims we had a hand in dissolving it, we don’t have such power to do that,” he said.

He told The Nation, that the issues around the crisis were explained in a piece, ‘’Facts about the CONTISS 15 Migration’’, he wrote that was published in The Nation on February 16, 2019.

In the said piece, Kuye said the implementation of the CONTISS 15 between October 2016 and January 2019 was in error as the NBTE had, through a policy document, noted that the implementation of CONTISS 15 was not for all workers.

He said: “The NBTE, in response, sent the policy guidelines directly to the Office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Education (SAE).

“The Office of SAE sent the policy papers to the Governing Council and other relevant agencies of Government for consideration and recommendation.

“On receiving the NBTE document from the Office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Education, the Governing Council constituted a committee  with representatives from Governing Council,  Management and the three Staff  Unions to consider the document as directed by the State Government.  At the said meeting, the unions insisted that the Polytechnic should implement the NBTE  CONTISS 15 Migration Guidelines holistically even though Management and Governing Council were not favourably disposed to this union’s position for they believed that it should only be for officers on CONTISS 11 downwards and CONTISS 12 upwards (where necessary) according to NBTE. To give peace a chance again, the Governing Council/ Management obliged.”

Kuye also said the institution had made efforts to cushion the effect of the reversal by  approving promotions, and annual salary increments.

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