From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Former workers of the abandoned Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State, have embarked on a peaceful protest over the nonpayment of their severance benefits.
Blaming the Bureau ForbPublic Enterprises(BPE) and the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) for their predicament, the protesters, numbering more than 300, said they have given the two agencies a two-week ultimatum to pay their entitlements, threatening to take legal action against the two federal agencies.
Some inscriptions on the protesters’placards read: ”BPE/PTAD, You cannot deprive us of our entitlements. We say No to injustice”, “Corruption hits BPE/PTAD. What do you mean by nominal roll? ”Total number of ALSCON workers was 1,805 and NOT 1,243 as your nominal roll says, ”562 ex workers of defunct ALSCON workers omitted in PTAD nominal roll. This is total injustice to humanity”, ”In 2012 BPE defrauded us, PTAD don’t defraud us too. Pay us our due, our right”.
According to the demonstrators, ALSCON has a total number of 1,805 workers, but they were shocked that PTAD omitted names of 562 of them from the company’s nominal roll.
The convener of the protest, Mr Hope Ufot Wilfred, said that the BPE had carried out a verification exercise for disengaged workers of the company in 2012, adding that not everybody was captured.
To make the exercise more comprehensive, he said, the federal government directed PTAD to conduct another staff verification exercise in 2019 as a precondition for the payment of severance benefits.
‘Most of us were employed at various times and we had 1,805 workers who worked with ALSCON. The problem is that over time we have been deprived of our entitlements,’ he explained.
‘The federal government in a bid to resolve the grievances decided to capture the complete number of staffs who worked with ALSCON.
‘A verification exercise was conducted in late 2019 and we all participated. We brought all necessary documents including letters of appointment, disengagement letter, promotion letters, confirmation letters, pay slips and other documents to attest that you were a staff of the company.
‘We were given a printout and verified as workers of ALSCON but when the money was paid 562 of us were omitted from the payroll. This is total injustice. We need our money and they must pay us our money.
‘I think the omission is a deliberate act because PTAD captured the total number of workers who had worked with ALSCON but for them to come and tell us that our names were not in the nominal roll presented to them by BPE sounds suspicious. The question is why did they conduct the verification?’
While one of the protesters, Mr. Anthony Ekpe, said that the PTAD intentionally muddled up names of staff to justify their exclusion from the final payroll, another protester, Mrs Rosemary Ayaraekpe, complained that five of her colleagues have lost their lives over the years because they could not t afford to pay their medical bills.
She added that they worked under very hazardous conditions, especially in the potroom where young men were rendered impotent because of intense heat.
Ayaraekpe further said she could not pay her children’s school fees as well as meet other basic needs following the refusal of BPE and PTAD to pay her entitlements.
When contacted, ALSCON’s representative of Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) Mr Emem Valentine, said the union is working with the relevant agencies of government to resolve the issues.
He gave the assurance that those affected would be paid their due benefits.