In what seems like a break from labour’s traditional opposition to privatisation or concessioning of public assets, workers of the struggling Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) are endorsing the planned concessioning of the corporation.
The workers under the aegis of Nigeria Union of Railway Workers (NUR) and Senior Staff Association (SSA), Nigeria Railway Branch, said they were in support of ‘patriotic concession’ of the railway assets if only this will make the sub-sector a true hub of the Nigerian transportation system.
They are, however, opposed to what they termed ‘wholesale transfer’ of the workers’ liabilities to the would-be concessionaire, as they insist on full settlement of all labour issues, including payment of negotiated severance package by the Federal Government before concluding the concession process and handing over to the concessionaire.
The workers represented by their unions’ leaders at a news conference jointly addressed by Esan Segun, secretary general, NUR, and Romanus Emezie, secretary, SSA (NRC Branch), in Lagos, Tuesday, also want the concession process to be made transparent, with due diligence followed.
“Let it be made abundantly clear that, Nigerian Railway workers are not and will not be against the concession of the Nigerian Railway assets only if it is done with a sense of patriotism and due diligence to make rail sub-sector a true hub of the transportation system in Nigeria.
“We will also not antagonise the process if Federal Government engages the workers in dialogue where demand for a genuine and fair labour disengagement policy that guarantees our rights of fair severance benefits from the Federal Government are heard and fully met before conceding the railway assets to a third party.
This is the preferred choice of Nigerian railway workers to dangerous and seamless transfer of workers to concessionaire who may choose to weed the inherited workforce into joblessness, squalor and perpetual psychological trauma,” the unions’ leaders said.
According to the unions, the workers will also keep their peace “if the Federal Government decides today, among other things, to monetise the staff quarters to the workers as directed by the monetisation policy of 2005”.
Rotimi Amaechi, Nigeria’s minister of transportation recently confirmed that negotiations were ongoing for the concessioning of the narrow gauge lines across the country to General Electric (GE). Amaechi said that the agreement would be signed before January 2017.
“We are negotiating to concession the old narrow gauge lines from Lagos, Kano, Funtua, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Aba, Umuahia, Enugu, Makurdi, Jos, Bauchi, Gombe to Borno. The entire western and eastern lines will be rehabilitated but we will concession the project to GE and they are bringing in $2 billion to embark on the project. “If we concession the lines to them and they run it with their money, then you can be rest assured that movement of goods will continue but at a slower speed.”
The minister said that the concession would be for a period of 20 to 25 years, stressing that GE would run it after reviving the lines and provide coaches on all the revived lines.