Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria
Newspaper of the DSM
STOP RETRENCHMENT IN RAILWAYS
By Stephen Ojetunde
Despite the mass retrenchment carried out by the Federal Government in the Nigeria Railway Corporation in which over 30,000 workers were sacked between 1988 and 2001, another plan is on the way for further reduction in the size of the workers by 50%. The major reason given for this dastardly and anti-workers action is that the government wants to restructure the parastatals and the only way out is to reduce the workforce of the corporation in preparation for its privatisation.
We in the DSM call on Obasanjo regime and its cohorts to stop the implementation of these anti-poor policies, IMF/WORLD BANK policy of privatisation and retrenchment of workers. All which brings nothing but poverty, hunger and diseases for the working masses. We equally call on the leadership of Nigeria Union of Railway-men (NUR) to mobilise workers to resist these policies
The retrenchment of over 8,000 railway workers means an increase in mass unemployment. Apart from this, tens of thousands of people who depend directly or indirectly on these workers for means of their livelihood would suffer. Poverty and crimes will increase.
It is true that the NRC is in a state of total collapse. But this is as a result of the age-long deliberate neglect of the corporation by the successive governments and its mismanagement and looting by government-appointed managers and politicians. But privatisation of the corporation and retrenchment of its workers are not and should not be the solution. The main problems being encountered by the NRC workers are non-availability of the necessary tools and materials (coaches, locomotive, etc).
Only massive investment of resources coupled with democratic management and control by the workers and the trade union can resolve these problems. This will include a modernisation programme to equip the rail system with the latest technology within the framework of an integrated system which includes rail, road and water-ways.
The NUR leadership in a letter to the Minister of Labour proposed conditions that must be followed by the government for the planned retrenchment. These are:
* the government must make available the total cost of such exercise;
* all affected employees must be paid their terminal benefits and other allowances alongside their letters of retrenchment;
* service records of staff who have served for 33years must be upgraded to 35years to enable them enjoy maximum benefit of service;
* redundancy benefit must be paid to all workers with less than five years services at the rate of 80% of total emolument;
* the exercise should be gradual;
* those to be affected should be made to become owners of quarters occupied by them before the exercise and;
* all those on acting appointment must be confirmed effectively from the date of acting on the higher grade.
The above-listed conditions are not the best way to tackle the planned retrenchment. It would be recalled that the last set of railway workers that were retrenched have not been paid their entitlements. Pensioners are owed backlog of pensions. Many have been ejected from their quarters. Many of them have died of hunger and diseases. The union should therefore resolutely oppose the retrenchment and privatisation plan. If the union bases its argument on these modalities, then the battle has been lost even before it begins.
The planned retrenchment is another reason why the NLC leadership should drop its tacit support for the privatisation programme. Instead, labour and youth activists must organise the working class, professionals, farmers, artisans, market-women and students to fight for a democratic socialist society where the abundant resources will be collectively owned and equitably shared among the populace rather than leaving the resources in the hands of the few capitalists whose aim is to make profit at the expense of the poor masses.