BRT: A MODERN TRANSPORTATION WHERE WORKERS TOIL IN SLAVERY CONDITIONS
BRT: A MODERN TRANSPORTATION WHERE WORKERS TOIL IN SLAVERY CONDITIONS
Management Forced to Grant Some Concession
(By Bosah Chinedu)
The Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system in Lagos is a road transportation scheme that has two separate entities popularly known as LAMATA and Lagbus. It is one scheme that has earned the Lagos State government some popularity even when it has not helped reduce the chaotic nature of transportation. Lagos is still largely populated with private rickety vehicles popularly known as Danfo, Molue, tricycle (Keke NAPEP) and motorcycle known as Okada. All along the perception of the public towards the BRT transport was that it was a publicly funded and managed scheme but the fact is that the scheme is privately run. LAMATA and Lagbus, at present, have about 215 and 300 buses respectively with a total workforce of 1600.
The LAMATA section was funded by ECO Bank while Lagbus is a private limited company known as Lagbus Management Assets Limited, whose funds are largely on loans. With the aim to make more profits, both managements have embarked on massive exploitation of workers as they are only paid basic salary without any allowance and the scheme lack any well defined maintenance culture with no workshop for proper repair of the vehicles. It is a regular scene to find a good number of vehicles abandoned and waiting for repairs at their parking yard at Toll gate and Ikorodu while on few occasions some of vehicles are given to another motor company (Leventis Motors) to repair.
The two outfits like most privately run companies frequently engage in anti-workers policies such as denying workers the right to belong to a union; harassment of workers and poor condition of service as well as denying workers annual leave. Workers with Lagbus are made to work 16 hours a day under the two days on, one day off arrangement. So, in actual fact they work 80 hours weekly and 320 hours monthly without any overtime allowance. Workers are not also paid allowances such as out-of-station allowances, medical allowance etc. Arbitrary and unjustifiable deduction of salaries by management and non-issuance of pay slip is the practice. This and many other reasons highlighted above including the arrest and detention of their union chairman by the police for arguing with a police officer while on duty were responsible for workers of Lagbus embarking on strike and mass demonstration on Monday October 13 2008.
Alarmed, the management publicly made a commitment to meet workers demand after a week. But rather than engage the elected union leadership in the negotiation, the management went into negotiation with handpicked worker representatives and reached an agreement. The agreement though did not meet workers expectation, management was forced to grant some concession for fear of another workers strike. For example, the management agreed to start issuing pay slip to workers starting with their October salary; it also agreed to commence one day on, one day off and 16 hours daily from January, which means that workers will work 60 hours a week, but in the interim workers will be paid additional N2500 as allowance. Some workers are to commence their annual leave as from November 2008 and a sick bay is to be established.
Members of the CDWR had intervened after the protest, in subsequent meetings and have called for a united front of the workers by unifying the divided leadership and for the union to deepen the struggle.
Though workers with LAMATA work one day on, one day off and for 16 hours daily, they were equally refused a union of their choice. In actual fact a union was imposed on the LAMATA workers by the management. The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), which happens to be the recruiter of the workers was equally imposed on them and workers were repeatedly threatened to remain with NURTW or get attacked by armed thugs. Needless to say, the NURTW is known for their close collaboration with the management and the government and conduct its activity in the most undemocratic manner. LAMATA Workers like their counterpart in the Lagbus work under poor condition of service.
The Lagbus workers had earlier joined a union (Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees) but the management refused to recognise the union. All along the union (AUCPCTRE) had taken steps to make the management recognise the union such as writing series of letters to the management and to Ministry of Labour and Productivity, but management have remained adamant. To us in the CDWR, the measures taken so far by AUCPCTRE is not enough as it is aimed at pacifying instead of confronting the management.
In order to improve their working conditions, workers agitated for decisive actions against the management but the AUCPCTRE leadership wanted the management to recognise the union first before all other issues would be confronted. This frustration led to the October 13 protest and strike which, though daring and commendable, was largely unorganised.
As things stand now, the BRT management has reneged on some of the agreement reached while implementing some. For example, management has started paying the N2500 and the first batch of workers have gone on leave. For the fact that the union is not ready to go beyond sending memos and the clear absence of a united workers leadership (the elected union leaders and the handpicked leaders), the management is comfortable at ignoring some of the demands of workers even those agreed upon.
The BRT scheme is in line with the so called Public Private Partnership (PPP) the Lagos state government like its federal and other states counterparts have embraced. It is just another name for privatisation. To them, it is to use the private sector as an engine room to develop the ailing state of infrastructure while forcing the poor to pay through direct levies or taxes. For example, the Lagos state and federal government have indicated interest to commercialise the major roads including the highways wherein the roads will be built by these private sharks in exchange for the rights to set up as many toll gates as possible with the aim of charging direct levies for 20-30 years depending on the agreement.
Nigeria’s roads obviously have been in deplorable conditions despite 9 years of huge revenue as a result of the international crude oil price and World Bank loans. The chaotic situation in Lagos is terrible such that commuters spend in some cases as much as 8-10 hours daily in traffic. This is largely caused by the over dependence on roads and the terrible state of most roads in Lagos.
This explains why many workers leave home as early as 4am in order to beat traffic and get home by 10pm after spending hours in traffic. Instead of creating more roads and make the existing ones motorable, the state government has only resorted to a short-cut method. Although some of the roads were divided into two lanes with particular lane reserved for the BRT Buses so as to make it more attractive to commuters wishing to avoid the usual traffic gridlock, the traffic situation remains as chaotic as before. Meanwhile, the little over 500 BRT buses are grossly inadequate in the face of what is required to tackle the traffic situation in Lagos.
The CDWR have always campaigned for publicly funded corporations to be placed under workers and communities democratic control and management. Instead, government have carried out wholesale privatisation whereby government supports private companies using public funds or handing over the working people to private sharks for ruthless exploitation. With this kind of arrangement the privileged few particularly those in power and their private friends enrich themselves as they ruthlessly and constantly attack the living standard of the people.
The Campaign for Democratic and workers Rights (CDWR) reiterates its call on the union leadership to take far-reaching actions, which includes mobilising and uniting the entire workers. These will entail organising work stoppages, strikes, picketing with the aim of forcing the management not only to recognise the union but also to meet workers welfare demands. We call on the dual workers (Lagbus) leadership to harmonise their differences and pursue workers common interest against management.
- Annual leave to be observed by all workers without loss of pay.
- Adequate allowances (transport, housing, medical, overtime, outstation, bonuses etc) should be paid to all workers.
- The number of work hours to be reduced from 16hours daily to 8hours while Saturday and Sunday should be optional and overtime paid.
- Management must recognise and allow the workers to belong to a union of their choice.
- Increment in basic salary and allowances to be increased in line with the inflationary trend.
- The Lagos State government should not only invest massively in transportation such as construction of good roads and provisions of more buses; modern rail, water and air transportation must also be established by government in order to ease the pressure on the roads and make transportation in Lagos most convenient.