Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has opposed suggestions that part of the National Contributory Pension Fund be used as palliatives for the workers and other vulnerable groups, to cushion the effects of the lockdown over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the country.
The Contributory Pension Scheme, which came into existence in 2004, has grown to over N10 trillion.
The NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, stated this on Friday in Abuja, at the joint national briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
He was responding to a question on whether the contributory pension could be used as palliatives as the lockdown entered the fourth week.
According to him: “This is not free money; it is the money that belongs to the pensioner; it is in the pensioners retirement savings account. It is structured in such a way that he continues to draw this money throughout his life. So, clearly speaking, we need to protect these funds and ensure that the pensioners or the workers contributing these monies, such that at the end of the day, they would be able to have something to rely on. So, clearly, I think it should not be used for this (COVID-19 palliative) purpose.”
Also speaking on the issue, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, assured that the federal government will not borrow from the contributory pension fund to provide palliatives to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown in the country.
While supporting the NLC president’s position, he said although the government had toyed with the idea of borrowing from the fund, it concluded that it was too early for government to dip its hands into the fund.
Mustapha said: “We had looked at the issue of pension funds. As a matter of fact, we even got the minister of state for education to do us a position paper and our conclusion is that the time is not even right for us to go there because the entire world order in terms of our economy and in terms of our health system has been disrupted by COVID -19 and the consequences nobody can imagine until probably the dust is settled.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment has promised to intervene and resolve the industrial dispute between the Plateau State Government and some state health workers who were allegedly sacked.
The Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, at the briefing said that while the National Industrial Court (NIC) had closed, due to the COIVID-19 lockdown, for workers to seek immediate judicial relief, the ministry would be ready to act as conciliator in the matter between the health workers and the state government.
According to him, the ministry will only intervene in industrial cases that involve health workers because of the nature of the services they are providing during this pandemic.
“Our duty in the ministry of labour is to act as conciliators in such a circumstance. For now, because we are very much aware of the impediments, if any such thing occurs now in respect to health workers who suffer any kind of injustice from their employers, the impediments are that the courts are not opened especially the National Industrial Court (NIC), they can’t rush to court and get a relief.
“Even the ministries are closed for now. But perhaps, they can try and get in touch with us through the ministry’s emails or even my personal social media handle. If they send me a direct message, because these are unusual times, to act as conciliators at this time. We understand the primacy of the work of health workers now so we can make exception only for health workers; to come out of our confinement to act as consolidators in such cases,” Keyamo said.
The NLC President used the opportunity to laud the PTF members for the work they were doing to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also commended the chairman of PTF, Boss Mustapha, for interfacing between PTF and NLC.
He said that the NLC would continue to engage the government and the PTF, even as he commended the frontline health workers for the sacrifice they are making to curtail the virus.
Wabba decried the number of health workers affected by COVID-19, saying it was imperative to interface with the taskforce.
He said: “The chairman of PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, must be commended for the interface between PTF and NLC. NLC would continue to be reasonable by engaging the government and the PTF, while we also commend the frontline health workers for the sacrifices, they are making to curtail the virus,” Wabba said.
The Labour president added that the NLC members who are tailors have produced locally-made face masks, that will be distributed free to the frontline health workers and some other Nigerians, adding that one of the advantages of the locally made face mask was that it can be washed, iron and re-used.
Mustapha, who received some of the face masks commended the NLC for the support and urged other Nigerians to emulate them.