EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE CHAIRMAN SENIOR STAFF ASSOCIATION OF TERTIARY INSTITUTIONS IN BENUE STATE ON THE UNION’S INDEFINITE STRIKE ACTION
The Senior Staff Associations of Tertiary Institutions in Benue State (SSATIBS) has embarked on an indefinite Strike action to protest what they call “issues the government can address with ease.” In this exclusive interview, The Editor- in- Chief of the Transmitter Media, Jimmie Adzande interacts with Comrade Moses Luper Dzaayem, State Chairman of the Union on the issues and the essence. Excerpts:
The Transmitter: What informed the current Industrial action by your Union in Benue State?
Comrade Dzaayem: The fact is that we have peculiar issues that the government is very much aware of. We have interacted and exhausted all that is required, without a positive response. We have no options left but to down tools (strike). Our issues include: non implementation of the 65 years retirement age for staff of tertiary institutions in Benue State. This is a federal law which was domesticated by the State in June 2020. The government has failed to implement the law as appropriate.
The Transmitter: What efforts have you made?
Comrade Dzaayem: We wrote to the Office of the Benue State Head of Service several times, followed by physical interactions. We wrote to the Governor and solicited for audience with him. We have contacted the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) which included the issues in their 2021 ultimatum, all to no avail.
The Transmitter: What other issues are you pushing for?
Comrade Dzaayem: There is the issue of 5-months’ salary arrears (August to December, 2017). We also have issues with Benue State Pension Commission (PENCOM). This is a noble concept that we appreciate so much but while the employee contributes 8%, the State Government has never paid its 10% per employee part, to make the 18% as required by the law. Members of the Union have mixed feelings about the PENCOM law. This we wrote to the Chairman of the Commission to halt these deductions, pending when the government is in a stable financial state to contribute its quota.
The Transmitter: The irregularities in Pension, Salaries and arrears are a state problem, not just your Union…?
Comrade Dzaayem: The truth is that I have the constitutional mandate to protect the welfare and rights of my members. I am not the Chairman of every Union; I am the Chairman of SSATIBS. I cannot go out of my way to do otherwise. This is not being selfish.
The Transmitter: Any other issue bothering your Union?
Comrade Dzaayem: We also have the issue of Benue State Health Insurance Scheme. We attended a meeting last year in which the Head of Service informed us that going forward, there will be a 5% deduction from workers’ salaries, wherein the State Government will contribute 10%. This same government lamenting for paucity of funds as evidenced in non-payment of salary arrears and epileptic payment of the current salaries, non-remittance of 10% PENCOM contributions and so on. How can it work? Thus, the workers see this developing idea as a scam. You cannot give what you do not have. We wrote and asked that this plan should not see the light of the day.
The Transmitter: What is the reaction of the Government thus far?
Comrade Dzaayem: We Were invited for a meeting with the Secretary to the Government of Benue State (SSG), joined by Permanent Secretary Establishments, the Commissioner for Education and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour Matters. We presented our demands and the government team asked us to suspend the strike while we negotiate. But as arrow heads of the Union, we took the message back to our members who have not come to terms with the request.
The Transmitter: Are you okay with the State of the infrastructure in your institution, since this is not one of your demands?
Comrade Dzaayem: For us as a union, it is one step at a time. What has necessitated this strike started a long time ago. Our thinking is for the government to address these demands. Going forward, we can raise other concerns. Let me state here crystal clear that our Union is so government friendly, otherwise, this strike should have taken place a long time ago.
The Transmitter: How do you plan to negotiate?
Comrade Dzaayem: Alright take for instance, if you owe me and you make attempt to pay, I can be reasonable. But you owe me and have nothing on the table for me? If the Government does something reasonable, we can shift our grounds.
The Transmitter: Are you sure you have the solid backing of your members across the state?
Comrade Dzaayem: Waoh! the truth is that our offices and phones are wide open to members. So far, all we get is appreciation and prayers from them. There is no opposition because this is not a personal or selective fight. We agreed to it as a union.
The Transmitter: What if the government fails to meet your demands especially as we approach the end of the current administration?
Comrade Dzaayem: We are on a bargaining table. If the government does something reasonable, we will go back to work. Our issues are doable; most are not involving finances. I see no reason the government should be reluctant or nonchalant about our demands.
The Transmitter: Don’t you think the government plans to take out public Educational Institution?
Comrade Dzaayem: I don’t know for sure. But the government is not ready or serious at the moment. All the issues can be addressed with ease.
The Transmitter: Your last words?
Comrade Dzaayem: Most times when issues like this come on board, the students and parents tend to blame the staff for being unreasonable. The truth is that if our demands are met, we will be happier; our outputs incredible and students will benefit thereof. For parents, we are in a democratic regime. Some parents are politicians, some have friends in government and some are government themselves. I will implore those in position to advise the government. It will be counter-productive if we go to our institutions and sit under trees. We are reasonable people and have integrity to protect. The government can meet up our demands.