The Nigerian government has asked bursars of federal universities to list the problems they have noticed in the payment of salaries through the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) platform so that they could be immediately addressed.
The government spoke after receiving a strike notice from the non-teaching staff unions of the universities who said their initial support for the payment platform had been eroded by the problems.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who said this in Abuja on Sunday, explained that his office is planning to apply for a special pass from the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for a physical meeting with the unions to discuss and resolve the contentious issues.
The IPPIS is the government’s accountability software that has been made compulsory for all public institutions, mainly for personnel payroll.
Universities workers have opposed the implementation of the IPPIS, arguing that it does not take into consideration the unique operations of the institutions. This has led to confrontations between the unions and the government over the last few months.
Last month, the federal government said it was deliberately misled by the managements of some Nigerian universities into paying salaries to some deceased members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) through the IPPIS.
The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) had initially supported the IPPIS initiative, but later said its trust in the system was eroded by irregularities noticed in the payment of their February salaries.
Mr Ngige said one of the grievances the non-teaching staff of universities pointed out is that IPPIS is overtaxing them and “that IPPIS skipped some of their people who have taken leave of absence and the rest of them all.
“These are matters that can be easily adjusted. The IPPIS office informed me that immediately the lockdowns are down, these bursars are to come up, but before then that they should by e-system try to give them additional information on some of those shortcomings and that they will try as much as possible to correct them,” he said.
Mr Ngige said Zoom meeting will not be able to correct some of the problems that had been discovered.
“We decided that we have to do a physical meeting and we will do that as soon as possible. My office is working with the IPPIS office to arrange that meeting,” the minister said.
“We are on top of the situation, we have received their letter. Their letter borders on shortcomings of the IPPIS system and I have spoken with the Finance Minister and the Accountant-General of the Federation and they said that they are in touch with the university bursars to correct certain peculiarities and send back to them to treat,” he said.
Speaking on the planned meeting with the government in a phone interview, the Chairman of Joint Action Committee(JAC) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities and Associated Institutions (NASU), Samson Ugwoke, said the non-teaching staff members in the universities have been passing through hardship since they enrolled into the IPPIS platform.
He said the government does not need to call for a meeting before it pays members their full salaries and release their payment slips.
“In the past four months, members have not received full salaries, while deductions made for the servicing of bank loans which members took have not been remitted to the banks and cooperative societies,” he said.
“Up till now, the other deductions that are meant for our members and their welfare are being withheld by the IPPIS and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. They deducted tax and paid to the federal government, they deducted welfare money, they deducted cooperative society funds, they deducted loans and withheld them since that time. The implication is that salaries have not been paid in full since the inception of the IPPIS,” he said.
According to Mr Ugwoke, “the Labour Act says no organisation or employer should deduct check-off dues and withhold for over two weeks, it is contrary to the Labour Act.
“The actual thing is that when it is deducted, it’s then remitted to the office of that union. But for four months now, the Accountant-General Office via the Office of IPPIS has deducted money and withheld the money without remitting to the unions, the Cooperative Society, to the Welfare scheme or to the banks that people borrowed money from,” he said
Mr Ugwoke said a new problem brewing is that IPPIS is saying that the salaries of doctors and health workers in the universities who have reached 60 years will be stopped.
“It appears that the man in IPPIS seems to be power-drunk or seems not to be well informed or guided because the retirement age matter is an Act of the National Assembly and it is not joined with salary. The National Assembly passed this law that all non-teaching staff of the universities should retire at 65,” he said.
“We have written to the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, we are yet to get a reply even though they are talking about calling us for a meeting but we insist you don’t need to call a meeting to pay us full salary or release payslips. We have made it clear to the Honourable Minister that they should do the needful,” he said.
He said the unions have made it clear that if the irregularities by IPPIS are not rectified, “we are going to embark on a total strike. We have written to notify them that we will commence a 14-day warning strike in the first instance and thereafter it will be total and indefinite.”
“JAC has also issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to correct all the problems associated with the payment of salary through the IPPIS platform and release their Earned Allowances before the easing of the lockdown, if not members will not resume duty when schools resume,” he concluded.