By Luka Binniyat
ABUJA â€” MINISTER of Steel and Solid Minerals Development, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, yesterday told the House of Representatives Committee on SteelÂ that at least 50 per cent ofÂ the 4,510 workforce of Ajaokuta Steel Complex Limited, ASCL, and the Nigerian Iron Ore Mining Company, NIOMCO, Itakpe, would have to go as government could no longer pay their wages.
This is coming after the Federal Government, last week, paid the workers a sum ofÂ N3.1 billion as their 10-month salary arrears.
But the Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ISSSCAN, in a swift reaction, said that its members were ready to go if government meets all the conditions for disengaging them, sayingÂ it is the Nigerian Steel sector that would be the loser.
Appearing before the Committee headed by Aminu Shagai (PDP/Sokoto), Allison-Madueke said the burden of paying workers in a sector that is non-producing is one that the Federal Government is no longer disposed to and the Federal Ministry of Finance has made it clear that it would no longer approve the payment of such huge amount to the two companies, when there is no production going on.
According to her, only essential technical staff would be retained.
â€œWe have set up a committee to work out their gratuity and pensionâ€, she said.
Speaking to newsmen after the Ministerâ€™s submission, the President of ISSSCAN, Comrade Otori Saliu, said that it is unfortunate that after the Government had spent so much money to train his members in Ukraine to acquire a rare professional skill in steel making and others, most of them would have to be laid-off just when it seemed that the two companies may go into operation in the near future.
â€œWe are not saying that we will not go, as long as they pay us all outstanding arrears, our gratuity and make adequate and acceptable arrangements for our pension, we will go and face our lives elsewhere but, it is the country that would be the ultimate loserâ€, he said.
â€œWhile in Japan, Russia and Ukraine, most of the able old hands in their steel sectors are being recalled to handle their expanding steel industry, we in Nigeria are sacking the ones trained on government bill, and never used for twenty yearsâ€, he added.
He then accused government of unduly publicising the payment of their salary arrears, saying it has made armed robbers to attack some of their members.
On the salary arrears paid the steel workers, the Minister told the Reps committee that the total amount paid ASCL workers was N2.24 billion for 3,166 workers and that the 1,344 NIOMCO staff got N865.14 million.
On his part, the Committee Chairman said he was happy that the workers have been paid, saying it was a major achievement of the Minister.
He however warned that, â€œif we cannot produce liquid steel by 2011, we will never be among the 20 most industrialised countries even by 2050.â€