by Baba Aye
Members of the National Union of Post and Telecommunications Employees (NUPTE) and the NIPOST Pensioners Association held demonstrations in front of post offices across the country on January 8, when the union formally commenced a strike that lasted two weeks, on the plight of the pensioners. The NIPOST authorities had refused to pay pension and gratuity arrears of upwards of seven years for the establishment’s pensioner. NIPOST Pensioners Association affiliated to the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) organised protest rallies across the country to draw attention to their plight, starting on Christmas Eve, before NUPTE joined the struggle.
This struggle led to a limited victory by when the NIPOST authorities signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Union of Pensioners in the third week of January. By the terms of the MoU it is just three months pensions that are to be paid in the first instance. And these are only for those pensioners “verified” in December 2011. All outstanding pension arrears are however to be paid before the end of the first quarter of the year.
The employers claim that they cannot pay the entire backlog at a once. But the billions of naira stolen regularly by the bosses are much more than the due entitlements of these senior citizens who have spent the better part of their lives working, with the pension claims of many of them being far below the minimum wage of N18,000! It is also not a new thing for part payment to be paid from the bulk of their pension arrears, with promises made for complete payment later. Indeed, the strike that led to this partial victory did not come out of the blues. Part payment (also just for three months) had been paid before.
NUPTE and the Pensioners’ Association had raised the matter time and again over the years, to both the executive and legislative arms of government. This led to the payment of just three months of the arrears in 2010. But that was hardly enough to meet even the primary needs of the pensioners. At least 426 pensioners have died over the last seven years, from starvation and the worst forms of poverty, in old age. 347 of these have died in the last three years according to Jonathan Ashade, Chair of the Ogun State chapter of the NIPOST Pensioners Association, who could not hold back his tears as he lamented the predicament that these senior citizens have been thrown into, during the strike.
The inability of these aging citizens to pay hospital bills, in a country where “health insurance” remains largely a mirage has equally resulted in deplorable states of health for them. A pitiable example reported in the Sunday Punch of January 26, 2013 is that of Mr. Dimgba Ojukwu, who informed the world that “I lost my sight in 2007 because I could not get money to treat my eye problem. Before I completely went blind, my sight began to deteriorate but there was no money for treatment.”
Such painful situations like this will not be addressed by the cosmetic provisions of the MoU with NIPOST. SWL demands the immediate full payment of the pensioners’ entitlements and calls on NLC and TUC to stand by NUPTE, NUP and the NIPOST pensioners for this demand. The pittance being paid as pensions also has to be reviewed upwards to reflect cost of living.
Workers and retired workers (pensioners) must however always note the fact that the bosses will hardly ever improve wages and working conditions without struggle. Our struggle ultimately has to be waged for overthrowing the exploitative capitalist system of the bosses and establishing a socialist system where we, who create the wealth, manage it; in our workplaces and society at large.