—Says he doesn’t expect labour strike in next 2-years
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
THE Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong has set up a committee to investigate and resolve various complaints in Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF.
The Minister, who disclosed this while on a familiarization visit to the Fund in the company of the Minister of State Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Tuesday, said the Committee will be inaugurated tomorrow, Wednesday, October 4, 2023 adding, that the move was not an exercise to witch-hunt, but to add value to the operations of the agency.
A statement by the General Manager , Corporate Affairs of the NSITF, Nwachukwu Godson said the Minister noted the enormous responsibilities on the shoulders of the Federal Government towards the Nigerian workers and insisted that all agencies under the Ministry of Labour must be “unbundled” for optimum productivity.
The statement quoted the Minister as saying, “We saw achievements but we also saw a lot of complaints that came and that’s why we all came to look at this concern, to see how we address these issues.
“There is no agency that has no problem, there is no Ministry that has no problem but when you have the problem, you look at ways to address them so that you can move forward.
“There are internal and external complaints against the management of the Fund which we intend to address. Complaints about unfair administrative practices, and also irregular promotions. We have complaints about lack of vacancies amidst stagnation of staff. Court cases as the MD mentioned about disengagement of certain staff, disharmony between in-house unions and management.
“Staff grievances on irregularity of grade levels coalescing, employment of persons to fill up vacancies in the fund and staff conditions of service, disharmony among management staff of the fund, insubordination, no clear direction on the implementation of the E-NSITF phase 2.
“As a way forward, I quickly set up a committee and that committee I’m going to inaugurate tomorrow (today ) to handle all the complaints, summarize and bring them to me.
“All these are meant to improve your services, it is not meant to witch-hunt anybody but be sure, I like using the word unbundling, but unbundling doesn’t mean chasing people away but anywhere I go and if I don’t add value, I realize I have not made anything. So we are here to add value to the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
He commended President Tinubu whose staunch belief in democracy he said, assisted in no small measure in apprehending the proposed strike by the NLC and TUC.
“We must give kudos to Mr. President. He is a democrat. Without him, everybody was thinking it was going to be mother of all strikes but to his honour , we were able to achieve this, and I must say, with the cooperation of the labour leaders, Nigeria is moving forward.
“I don’t expect to see other strike in the next one or two years. Though when we did it yesterday, today we just saw on television that some organizations are already embarking on strike. Let strike not be an achievement . It is not an achievement.
“Strike is always bringing us backwards . When we bring up issues , let us try and implement them and see the effect of it rather than sitting down every time and be talking of strike.”
Earlier in her welcome address, the Managing Director of the Fund, Barr. Maureen Allagoa X-rayed the trajectory of the fund and enumerated its numerous achievements as well challenges .
Allagoa stated, “over the years and in the course of fulfilling our mandate since July 2011 when the ECA (Employees Compensation Act) came into operation, the NSITF has been able to register over 145,000 employers and 7.4 million employees into the scheme.
She said, “The Fund has also paid claims and compensation to over 103,000 beneficiaries, including 111 persons who received artificial limbs (prosthetics), and 11 beneficiaries who were sent abroad for further medical treatment all at a total cost of over N6.6 billion.
“The Fund does not only pay out compensations, but is also involved in promoting safety at workplace to reduce work place accidents through the conduct of occupational safety and health (OSH) activities. It has also conducted such OSH activities for over 25,000 of our registered employers’ entity. It is also involved in the ongoing process of amendment of the National Safety and Health Council Bill at the National Assembly.
“Some of these achievements for which the Management has recently received a written commendation from the domestic unit of the workers union, National Union of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), include but not limited to the following
“Successful review of the staff condition of service which was last done 29 years ago. Payment of backlog of gratuity of exited staff of the Fund going back several years to point zero as at August 2023.
“Conduct of staff promotions as and when due as against the previous system of accumulated backlogs of promotion exercises. Hence we have conducted for 2021, 2022 and one part of the 2023 promotions, for senior staff which been successfully concluded remaining that of Management staff.
“Timely payment of claims to deserving beneficiaries, a process we are still making efforts to fine-tune via digitalization in order to reduce further, the processing time window.
“The Fund is currently digitalizing and automating the processes of its operations to make them faster and easily accessible to our clients through the E-NSITF project.
“The key point of this project is the Employer Self Service Portal (ESSP) which will enable our clients to access our services from the comfort of their homes or offices and receive instant responses in real time including the processing and issuance of their compliance certificates leading to the eradication of the fake certificate phenomenon.
“The Fund has recently resolved the age-long outstanding issues with our in – house Pensioners which resulted in the withdrawal of a lingering suit in the Court of Appeal. We are implementing an upward review of their pensions as per the recent approval by the relevant authorities.
“The Fund has started the implementation of a new salary structure as approved by the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission (NSIWC) with effect from January 2023 in order to improve welfare of our staff members.
“Management has provided operational vehicles for improved enforcement and compliance activities at the branches. Management had earlier distributed the first batch of 10 buses some months ago and has recently received 10 additional buses. The goal is to ensure that all the branches of the Fund have buses for their enforcement and compliance activities.
“Earlier this year a new regional office at Owerri was created as part of our expansion policy to bring our services closer to the people bringing the total number of Regional offices to 12, making for two Regional Offices in each of the 6 geo-political zones of the country. The Fund is in the process of creating Service Delivery Centres across the country to further bring our services to the doorstep of all Nigerians.
“The Fund has also recorded tremendous achievements in the area of recovery of outstanding contributions particularly in cases of management of recalcitrant employers. Our legal department has been up and doing in the prosecution of defaulting employers and even defaulting tenants in the properties owned by the Fund. This has resulted in the recovery of over N450m from cases won in court.
The Minister was accompanied by the Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Juliana Adebambo, some directors,among others.