The Rivers State Government and the Nigeria Labour Congress are on a collision course over a planned protest in solidarity with striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.
While the state government threatened to punish any civil servant who joined the strike on grounds of sympathy, the NLC said it lacked the right to do so.
The state Head of Service, Dr Rufus Godwins, handed down the warning while addressing workers in Port Harcourt.
Godwins said there was no justification for the civil servants in the state to join in the strike, saying the state government was neither owing lecturers nor civil servants in the state.
He said, “This does not detract from the rights of civil servants to belong to their different unions.
“But they cannot take part in a strike under the guise of a sympathy strike with another agency or another tier of government which is not fulfilling its obligation to its own staff while we are doing our own.
“That is why I say you cannot go and do a sympathy strike. When we owe you, then that is a different ball game. We do not owe our civil servants.
“Our universities are running. We are fulfilling our obligations to them.”
The state HoS said an attendance register would be open immediately to monitor erring civil servants in order to mete out appropriate sanctions.
“We have 170 universities in Nigeria. If the Federal Government cannot run the universities, let them shut them down and rationalise the universities.
“Under the public service rules applicable to the services, every civil servant knows that absence from duty is an act of misconduct and there is a punishment for it.
“Malingering, loitering, refusal to treat files; you can’t be away from your duty without permission, you will he queried.
“And especially so if the absence was occasioned by an illegal motive, for you to take part in a strike that we do not allow you to take part in,” Godwins said.
But in a swift response, the state chairperson of the NLC, Beatrice Itubo, debunked claims that the union was planning to embark on a solidarity strike from Wednesday.
Itubo, however, took a swipe at the Head of Service for convening a meeting just to issue threats to the civil servants in the state.
She said, “Nobody has called for any national strike. What happened was that we went for a National Executive Committee meeting last Thursday.
“There, the directive was given at the floor of NEC that the labour family wants to join ASUU and the students in solidarity.
“Based on that we should come back home and sensitise our people so that any day the whistle blows, we will all join.
“So, I don’t know where the Rivers State Government got their news that we are going to begin a nationwide protest.
“There is nothing like that. Check all our websites. But of course everybody in this country is in solidarity with ASUU and also sympathising with the students who have been at home for almost six months now.
“It is because most of their children are not studying here in Nigeria.”
She explained that the state government does not have the right to stop organised labour should the union decide to embark on strike.
The state NLC boss described the action of the state government to sanction any civil servant who joins in the solidarity strike as an empty threat.
“They are mere threats. The workers know better. When we get to that bridge, we will cross it,” Itubo stated.