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Pensioners woes : The need for labour movement’s concerted efforts

D 8 octobre 2013     H 05:43     A Kola Ibrahim     C 0 messages

“Since we were retired, no kobo was paid to me. Every time, we would be called to come to Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, to fill one form after another. Sometimes, we sleep at Awolowo Road on the bare floor, for us to be attended to. In spite of that, nothing had come out of it. It was only in 2010 October that I was paid, since then, no payment. My children in school, I can’t provide for them. Anytime they come back, we all starve and they will cry all day till they go back. There is nobody to help me except God, my husband died since 2003.”

This was how the Vanguard newspaper of 22 August 2013 reported Mrs. Thompson Imakop, a retiree from the National Bureau of Statistics, ‘who, retired in 2007, was only paid in 2010, lamenting that before and after 2010, she had not received a dime as pension.’ (Vanguard, 22/08/2013).

If her story is not pathetic enough, then listen to that of Mr. Muftau Baruwa, senior foreman in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, who, retired since 11 years and three months ago, said he was just living dead, saying, ‘I served 35 years and received a merit award twice by the federal government through two different level 14 officers. I joined the service on 19 May 1967 and I retired May 25 2002. As we speak, I have not been paid a kobo, both my gratuity and pension. I have been to the hospital twice since my retirement… I think death is better than this suffering. Most times, I will go into the streets to beg for money to feed. Severally, for two days I will not feed.’

These are just two of several thousand cases of suffering retired workers from government and private employment across the country. Hundreds have died of curable diseases and poverty among these retired workers, who have been criminally denied their entitlement after committing their adult lives to the country. If you feel that the inhuman treatment of senior citizens is limited to the federal government, then ask state retirees in Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Abia, Delta or Kano, and you will be proven wrong. Yet, public and political office holders continue to live opulently on the blood of long suffering retirees while senators want to award themselves live pensions for four-year ‘service’.

While Mrs. Imakop and Mr. Baruwa are lamenting, just one John Yakubu converted N23 billion of police pension fund to his own. While he was only given a slap on the wrist with a fine of N750, 000, another man who was employed to uncover the mismanagement of pension funds, Abdulrahman Maina, was himself ‘uncovered’ by a senate committee to have mismanaged (read : loot) billions of naira from the pension fund. Mr. Maina has jetted out of the country with the support of the presidency ! These are just two individuals out of several others involved in feeding on the misery of poor and hapless pensioners.

Pensioners’ woes are made worse by the virtual collapse of social services, which in effect has turned every household into a mini-government. Public education is being taken out of the reach of the poor and working people with LASU, UNIOSUN, and EKSU demanding an average of N150, 000 as fees from students, while public hospitals are more like death centres for serious ailments. In this kind of milieu, retirement is more like being sentenced to permanent poverty, except for the few big bureaucrats. Even when workers are in service, they can hardly make ends meet with their meager salaries.

As if that’s not enough, the ruling elite, in order to legalize and legitimize the looting of retirees’ pensions, have come up with the dubious Contributory Pension Scheme, enacted in 2004 under the Pension Reform Act. By these laws, government is shedding off the load of ensuring pension for workers, while handing them over to the private shylocks and profiteers, organized under Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) and Custodians (PFC). Indeed, these private profiteers are gang of bankers, politicians and big business people, who have set up these companies to feed on workers’ pensions. Moreover, the new pension arrangement frees up more money for politicians, not to invest in other social services like education, healthcare, job provision, etc, but to loot, just as over $400 billion has been reported looted by them since 1999.

According to this Contributory Pension Scheme, workers and employers (both government and private) are to contribute 7.5 per cent of each worker’s salary into the pension fund, to be administered by PFAs and PFCs. Aside the fact that the idea of deducting workers’ salaries as pension is exploitative and fraudulent, workers are being seriously shortchanged with this arrangement. For instance, what a worker gets as pension after retirement is these savings, which are divided into pension and gratuity. This is unlike a government-guaranteed pension scheme, where a fixed percentage of workers’ salaries is given as pension with the possibility of increase. By this policy, what a retiree in the contributory pension scheme will get is just a fraction of what they would have collected under a government pension scheme.

The fact is that the future of retirees is bleaker under the contributory pension scheme than under government pension arrangement. For instance, the pension reform act allows pension managers to spend these pension funds for business. This is a sure road to disaster, on the basis of Nigeria’s neo-colonial, bankrupt capitalism. Indeed, the recent collapse of the Nigerian banking sector has already put paid to lies that private businesses are more effective and less corrupt. It took the government’s commitment of over N2.5 trillion of public funds that could have been used to fund social services to revive these banks, albeit temporarily. However, the maddening gambling and crazy quest for quick profits have not stopped either in the banking or any other sector. Effects of the collapse of the stock market or banking sector will surely reverberate in the pension administration with lots of defaults in payments of pensioners. Meanwhile by this time, these private profiteers would have gained enough wealth via awarding huge salaries, allowances and bonuses to themselves, as witnessed in the banking crisis.

Already, many contributory pensioners are groaning under unpaid pension arrears by pension fund managers. Furthermore, according to Pencom, the regulatory pension agency, more employers are now defaulting, while others are simply converting workers’ salaries to pension contributions or deducting workers’ salaries by dubious means to pay the employers’ share of contribution. Governments at all levels are also reported to be defaulting in remitting their contributions even when workers’ contributions are being deducted from the source. Meanwhile, the major excuse for forcing this fraudulent pension scheme on workers is the quick payment of pension. Worse still, various governments at all levels are forcing this poisonous pill of contributory pension on workers. In a place like Osun State, the government went to the extent of asking workers to join contributory pension or retire compulsorily. Meanwhile, the same government has refused to pay the pension of those it forced to retire, while also refusing to remit its share of contributory pension. For many workers, it is a tale of being led to the slaughter as they are compelled to stay with the exploitative and dangerous contributory pension scheme.

Workers and pensioners at all levels must mount serious pressure on trade union leadership to lead the campaign and struggle for adequate, promptly-paid, living pension for all retirees. Consequently, a 48-hour strike backed up with mass actions like protests, rallies, media campaigns and lobbies must be called by labour leadership as a first step in this struggle. The labour movement must reject the contributory pension scheme and demand for a living guaranteed pension scheme for all workers, tied to economic indices (cost of living, inflation, salary increase, etc). Moreover, the labour movement must demand a democratic management of pension funds by elected representatives of workers and pensioners at workplaces, localities and up to the national levels. The representatives will have to give regular reports and updates to workers on the state of their pensions while monitoring and supervising pension payments to retirees at all levels. If the government can commit public resources to a fraudulent contributory pension scheme, there is no reason why it cannot ensure adequate pension for workers. The labour movement leadership must withdraw its membership of the Pencom board that administers and supervises this swindle of workers called contributory pension. The manner in which the labour leadership botched, at the last minute, the last protest rally in support of pensioners, under the ridiculous excuse that government has promised to look into the issue, is condemnable.

The pension crisis underscores the need for working and oppressed people to build political alternatives with clearly socialist programmes that will prioritize democratic public ownership of the economy and our commonwealth, with the aim of deploying them for massive development of the country and its people. Workers, youths, pensioners must demand the building of a mass workers’ political alternative now !

Source : http://www.pambazuka.org