By Victor Ahiuma-Young
THIS is certainly not the best of times for former staff of the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line, NNSL, who were disengaged from service between 1980 and 1990, as well as those forced out of service following its liquidation by the Federal Government in 1995.
Even after a court judgment, the government is alleged to have refused to pay them part of their terminal benefits especially their pensions.
Their plight has attracted the sympathy of the leadership of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, who warned that the issue of unpaid pension to the ex-staff is a potential threat to industrial peace in the Maritime industry, saying the union cannot continue to fold its hands and watch senior citizens and former members of the union suffer untold hardship following government’s refusal to pay them their statutory and earned entitlements.
President-General of MWUN, Adewale Adeyanju, told Vanguard that the former staff had been passing through real hardship and many had died due to lack of money to pay their medical expenses and other basic needs, saying “just few days ago, one of them, Afaniya Olasiji passed on untimely, because there was no money to meet his medical expenses, the family told us. They were paid their gratuity following due process by a committee set up by the government during the tenure of Abiye Seikibo as the Minister of Transport.
The committee determined only the gratuity to be paid the former workers and they were paid after the then President Olusegun Obasanjo approved the report of the committee. They were not paid their pension and that is what we are asking for. Two courts of competent jurisdiction gave judgment in favour of the seafarers that they must be paid their pensions and gratuities.”
Ministry’s claims of overpayment
Of recent, the Ministry of Transport is claiming that they were overpaid and that they needed to refund certain amount of money. This is not only laughable, but also not tenable because a duly constituted committee by the government worked their gratuity and was approved by the government. These senior citizens are asking for their pensions.
We have been on this for some time and have written letters to the government over this issue. We are not going to rest until they get their pensions paid. If the government wants peace in the sector, they have to pay the ex-staff their due, if not; we will be forced to take other steps that may not be pleasant to the government.
Petition to NIMASA
It will be recalled that in one of the letters written by the union to the Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, demanding payment of the pensions of the former NNSL staff, lamented that the union had been “inundated with bitter complaints of non-payment of monthly pension by the seafarers who were disengaged from service between 1980 and1990 and those that were exited from the services of the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line, NNSL, following its liquidation by Government in 1995.
“They have also complained individually and jointly about the peanuts paid to them in the name of gratuity which is said to have been calculated on the then National Minimum wage of N7,500.00 whereas Seafarers salaries, and terminal benefits are not guided by the National Wages Commission but by ILO standard.
“Upon their complaints, the National Administrative Council has directed that I should demand as follows: That the Seafarers whose services were disengaged between 1980-1990 be placed on pension effective from the date of their disengagement till date and onwards; That the Seafarers whose services were disengaged following the liquidation of the NNSL in 1995 should also be placed on pension from the time of their disengagement till now and onwards; That the peanuts paid to them in the name of gratuity which was said to have been calculated based on the then National Minimum wage of N7,500.00 be revisited and payment be made in accordance with ILO standard.
“It will be recalled that denial of payment of terminal benefits to those disengaged between 1980 and 1990 propelled the defunct Nigerian Union of Seamen and Water Transport workers to file an action against the Nigerian Shipping Federation, comprising the Nigerian National Shipping Line and the Green Line at the National Industrial Court (NIC) in 1991.
“However, due to overture made to the Union then, an out-of-court settlement on the dispute was entered into on 29th February, 1992. Unfortunately, the out-of- court judgement was not implemented until the liquidation of the NN SL by Government in 1995 which further led to the retirement of additional seafarers.
“The retirees, having waited for over seven years for the implementation of the out-of- court judgement, again approached the National Industrial Court, NIC, on 15th March, 2001 to compel the Shipping Federation, NNSL, the Green Line and the liquidator to execute the judgement obtained in 1991. It may interest you to know that Justice B. A. Adejumo, on 29th November, 2005 ruled that the retirees should be paid gratuity and pension, based on the salary then earned as at the time of judgment.
“It is unfortunate that whilst peanuts were paid in batches to the retirees in the name of gratuity, they have uptill now been denied pension, several years after disengagement, which we are now demanding. The gratuity said to have been paid based on the then minimum wage of N7,500.00 should be revisited as wages and terminal benefits of seafarers all over the world are calculated on ILO standard.”