By Victor Ahiuma-Young
CALL it catching them early, you may not be wrong. Or how else can one describe the recent interface with a section of the informal sector workers of the economy by a leading Pension Fund Administrator, PFA, the Trustfund Pensions PLC, ahead of the formal launch of the micro Pension scheme by the National Pension Commission, PenCom.
The interface was a sensitisation Programme attended by over 300 tailors in Lagos and Ogun states, who are members of Nigeria Union of Tailors’ branch of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGTWN.
Put together by Trustfund Pensions for members of NUTGTWN and undoubtedly, the first of such in the country.
Welcoming participants, President of NUTGTWN, John Adaji explained that the programme became necessary to get all the members of the union, including those working in the informal sector, into the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS.
According to him: “It is important to let our members in the tailoring sector know that they have to save for the retirement or rainy days. One of the most difficult things to do in life is saving. But everybody has time that he or she would be caught off with old age and retire. When old age eventually catches up with you, your savings will readily come handy.”
He commended Trustfund Pensions for always carrying along the workers on the new initiatives in the pension scheme, adding that it was also noteworthy that the PFA identified with workers in the informal sector.
Similarly, General Secretary of the union, Issa Aremu, stressed that the tailors should know that whatever they would enjoy at old age depended on what they were able to put in place during their youthful working years.
Aremu also lauded PenCom for a good job initiating the process of launching the CPS, saying “our union is the first to have organised workers in the informal sector and Trusfund with this programme is also the first PFA to key into this micro scheme by PenCom by organising the workshop.”
In her remarks, the Managing Director of Trustfund Pensions, Mrs Helen Da-Souza said the Trustfund Pensions PLC, was more or less owned by Nigerian workers through the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, having almost 25 per cent shares and two members on the board of the organisation.
Represented by Mallam Musa Nasir, Executive Director, Business Personnel and Administration, Mrs Da-Souza said: “Trustfund Pensions currently ranks among the top five Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs. We have over 700,000 enrollees which is the second highest in the industry. Interestingly, Trustfund has carved a niche for itself. We have 43 branches and service centers across the country. We decided to have so many branches deliberately because most of our customers are blue collar workers. We made it a deliberate policy to be very close to them and we are always very close to them.
“Trustfund Pensions also has the fortune of inheriting and managing the old Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, scheme from 2006 till date. We have paid over 120,000 of the old NSITF customers their benefits. What was transferred to us was N53 billion and we have paid benefits in excess of N16billion. If you take 16 billion out of 53 billion, you will be left with 36 billion. But today, the value of the fund is N73 billion In other words, the fund has grown over 100 per cent. That is the fund that belongs to Nigerian workers.
“We can say we understand the Nigerian workers because we have been part of them having managed the old NSITF, having now been operating in the new CPS for close to 14 years. We understand the needs of the Nigerian workers and we try to address their needs. That is why we always collaborate with your union and other unions. That is why we organise this kind of forum to educate and enlighten workers on the contributory pension scheme generally.
“The contributory pension scheme is a highly regulated scheme. It is in fact, the safest investment that you can make in this country. It is rested on a tripod. You have the regulator which is the PenCom, you have the Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs, and you have the Pension Fund Custodians, PFCs. All these three bodies must act on any transaction before it goes through . The PFA manages the fund, but does not have custody of the fund. The custody of the fund rests with the PFC. Any transaction that you do, the PFC will not execute unless it conforms with the guidelines set up and provided by PenCom. That is why since the inception of the CPS, there has been no scandal.
“Having seen the progress made in the organised private sector, in 2014, the Pension Reform Act of 2004 was amended. One of the key features of that amendment is to extend the CPS to to the self-employed people (informal sector ) like tailors, welders, traders, hairdressers. It is also called micro pension scheme. It is more or less a liberalised form of CPS. While you are saving for your future, it has more relaxed guidelines for accessing your funds.
“This enlightenment programme is because we feel we are closer to the workers than other PFAs. We need to reach out and give you sufficient information that will help you to make decision about the scheme because if you have information, you have power. That is why we feel we need to meet with unions and workers. We try to get information from our contributors so that we can reach them one-on-one and explain issues and other things necessary. You can walk into any of our offices, make phone calls, send emails and your enquiries are addressed as soon as possible. What we are doing today is to enlighten you, the informal sector workers on the guidelines of the micro pension scheme.”