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Pension Act does not stop payment of gratuity, says Okon 

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Dr. Tommy Okon, who was recently appointed the Acting National President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), in his maiden press conference, speaks on some demands the union has tabled before the Federal Government. GLORIA NWAFOR was there.

Okon


Law will continue to impoverish retirees except amended

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The ASCSN has called for an upward review of salaries while most states are yet to implement the national minimum wage signed into law. Some agitate that wages should be transferred to the concurrent legislative list. Where does labour stand on this?
For every five years, there is the need for a salary review but the government is not being truthful about it. Labour issues are under exclusive legislation. Any attempt to take it out means the worker is declared persona non grata in the workplace. It is an aberration for any government to reduce salaries after a new minimum wage was passed into law. Labour leaders have exhausted avenues of industrial relations and collective bargaining and, therefore, we would not hesitate to fight recalcitrant states.

Our wage is our right. We are not begging. President Muhammadu Buhari signed the national minimum wage into law and it should not be negotiated. Some state governments are saying they cannot pay and they have refused to tell us how much they spend from their security vote with the level of insecurity in the country. They refused to tell us how many personal assistants they have, they refused to tell us how much they are using to feed their dogs weekly. The problem of industrial relations is not caused by workers but by the government. This is man’s inhumanity to man. Why do states renege on the agreement when they know that it is a potential time bomb? When we agree, it is a simple rule of collective bargaining. We have reached an agreement and they are reneging without informing the parties involved and see how we can discuss from time to time. If any governor claims he cannot pay the N30,000 minimum wage, he should go back and think about how he came into power.

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Most states do not remit pensions to the Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs). What is the association doing to address this?
I tie the issue of pension to gratuity because a lot of directors and permanent secretaries never knew that they don’t pay gratuity. How can somebody work for you for 35 years and you are just telling the person to wait for his pension? This set of people live on drugs. You are taking them to a community of which they were not part. Some of them will go back to their villages after retirement, how do you expect them to survive? Some don’t even own houses. This is what is causing criminality for those who lacked moral upbringing in the civil service. Is this the parting gift they deserve after serving you, only for you to tell them to wait for the pension that is not forthcoming? 
 
When they go to pension, they will wait for another five years and the pension fund administrators will sit in their comfort zone to tell you to do annuity. If we want to follow them on the grounds of best practices and industrial relations, no state government will survive the hit. But we have addressed this through social dialogue and collective bargaining, what is left is for them to give us our dues. 

In 2004 when the issue of the contributory pension scheme was introduced, the need to abolish gratuity was put forward and labour took it up. Is it that the unions failed to sensitise the workers when they couldn’t get the government to agree to pay?
If you look at the Pension Act 2014, no provision stops payment of gratuities: the Act does not stop the payment of gratuities. When we are in service we feel we are comfortable. When I said most directors and permanent secretaries claim they don’t know, it is until they retire and they compute their benefits that it becomes glaring to them. What they collect is repatriation allowances, but gratuity is a lump sum that your organisation must have given to you to say thank you. They no longer pay and there is no law stopping it anywhere. It is an issue that we must fight against. We have applied for the amendment of the Pension Act as amended in 2014. Those were the “abracadabra amendment”. Until we amend the Act in line with the knowledge that we have it cannot work. We are calling for the amendment of the 2014 Pension Act because it has further impoverished the retirees, they are no longer safe. We seek for the amendment on the sections that make retirees become beggars. Those sections are inimical to pensioners’ interest and must be revisited and reviewed. The gratuity also should be embedded. It should be a provision to spell out that this Act does not forbid the payment of gratuity by employers. This is to prove that when we are talking we hold them accountable. The law should not be made to be silent on matters that affect life, because gratuity affects life. Most directors are feeling the heat now. How can I retire and the money I am supposed to use to buy drugs, I am using it to pursue a pension you have not paid me for three to five years? We have advised our members to keep their record of service intact because most of the delays are sometimes caused by us. Some documentations we are supposed to be handy with, when we are asked to provide them we will be looking for them. The day you join the service you must keep your record well. We need to let our members know those fundamental things they need to know as unionists. We are challenging the government seriously.

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How do you justify the perception of stagnation and extension of civil years to 65 years of age or 40 years of service?
The issue of extension of age from 60 to 65 years. If you go to the judiciary, they are already there. The issue of stagnation does not have anything to do with that. You get to the academics, they have extended. If you say you are extending the educational age of officers, and they are still workers, are you now saying workers in other sectors are not as important as education officers? These are issues the government should consider not to kill the morale of a worker. You will see some people now say that they want to convert to education workers simply because of that window that the government has opened. But if the government can bridge this gap by allowing other sectors to also benefit, we won’t experience such. We have to address it on time. For the age disparity, for those working in bigger agencies earning bigger salaries, the government must look at that. Everybody wants to go to such agencies where there are juicy opportunities. These are fundamental challenges, which we are looking at to see how we can bridge the gap.

The appointment of a non-career person is not common in the civil service. How does your leadership intend to go about this discussion?
We have written a memo and the head of the civil service has assured us that a committee would be set up to look at that and once the committee is set up we will make our position known. We are sure that the government will take it up from there, because most times, things are done without the knowledge of those at the top. Some of the non-career persons are being smuggled into the civil service. While making our position known, we will also have the privilege of educating them if they claim they don’t know.

On the recent call for merging of ministries, departments and agencies by the government over-bloated workforce, what is the stand of the association, would it lead to job loss?
The merging of agencies will not lead to job loss if you look at the right model of downsizing and rightsizing. The jobs will still go on without affecting anybody. There are certain things labour does not quarrel about when it comes to issues such as this.

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