Twelve years after their disengagement from service, the ex-workers of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCo) have threatened to go to court over the non-payment of their terminal and severance benefits.
The ex-workers, through their lawyer, Nwokedi Joe, said they are ready to take on the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), alongside the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and NAHCo for the role they played in the non-payment of their allowance.
The workers, in November, gave the BPE a two-week ultimatum to come clean about their severance allowance, else, it would be dragged to court, alongside PTAD, a government agency set up to pay pensions, severance allowances, and other packages to ex-workers of over 180 agencies, including NAHCo.
No fewer than 700 NAHCo ex-workers allege that they have not been paid their full allowance by PTAD. They also accused BPE and NAHCo of attempts to “short-change” them. PTAD is also accused of removing part of the ex-workers’ entitlement to pay NAHCo Plc for a “loan” to BPE.
NAHCo, a company which provides aviation services in Nigeria was privatised in 2005, an act which led to the disengagement of about 900 workers in 2008. While some of the disengaged workers were called back, others were not.
Since their disengagement, there has been a battle between the workers and the management of NAHCo and the BPE over the payment of their allowances.
According to the counsel to the ex-workers, a N1.3 billion severance package was mapped out for the payment of pension of the ex-workers. He accused NAHCo and BPE of frustrating the efforts of the workers to claim their benefits and diverting the funds.
Mr Joe said the workers have also approached PTAD on the N1.3 billion where they were informed that the allowance paid to the ex-workers by PTAD is not from the money.
“They could not answer the question as to the where-about of N1.3bn. It was on record that it was mapped out for the severance package of our clients.
“That now led us to BPE because they mentioned BPE and in the course of our deliberations with them, they availed us with a document from BPE, directing them as to when NAHCO was privatised,” he said.
Mr Joe said the silence of the BPE on the matter showed their involvement in the non-payment of the pension, after many years.
“We have done what we ought to do, like right citizens of Nigeria, by writing a letter to them, visiting their office, making a request for them to summon a meeting, giving an opportunity for us to be heard.
“We will also proceed to court since they find it difficult on their own to explain to us, they can explain to the court. We have enough documents to submit petitions and go to court, and we are sure the court will consider us,” the lawyer added.
Ex-workers are denied of their rights – Representative
Sanmi Alademoni, a NAHCo ex-worker and the General Secretary of NAHCo Worker’s Forum, told PREMIUM TIMES that a lot of them were denied their claims and those that have been paid were paid lower than what they should receive.
Mr Alademoni said although PTAD paid a number of them, it was a “peanut payment” as scores of the ex-workers are dying due to illnesses which they have no money to treat, whereas they have money with PTAD.
“This peanut payment has been stopped now for two months, without any reason from PTAD. Some people got alert of payments from PTAD without money four months ago, I brought this to their attention, they promised to do the needful but till this day, nothing has been done,” Mr Alademoni said.
“PTAD is not sincere at all, as all complaints submitted to them during and after our visits have not been attended to despite assurances from PTAD that such issues would be given accelerated attention. Members are losing interest in the whole process as it is not transparent,” he added.
PTAD, NAHCo, BPE react
When PPREMIUM TIMES contacted the Executive Secretary of PTAD, Chioma Ejikeme, she said only about 80 of the ex-workers are yet to be paid. When asked about claims that more than 700 of them are yet to receive payment, she said it is an issue with BPE.
“When it comes to that, go to BPE. PTAD is working on information and data given to us (by the) Bureau of Public Enterprise. So, if there are some people who (have) issues with BPE and they think PTAD can correct it, we can’t.
“This is the problem, because there are lots of people who are not qualified for the severance package based on maybe the number of years they worked or based on what their conditions of service (was),” she said.
Mrs Ejikeme told PREMIUM TIMES that PTAD works based on what was handed over to them by BPE and they can not tamper with the documents, adding that many of the ex-workers had earlier been paid by NAHCo and BPE.
She added that for about 80 ex-workers yet to be paid by PTAD, auditors are working on the calculations and check their papers to be sure they are qualified.
PREMIUM TIMES also contacted NAHCo about the unpaid allowance. Samuel Akerewole, the spokesperson of NAHCo, said some workers got their payoff at the time of disengagement, ranging from N30,000 to N14 million.
Mr Akerewole said NAHCo paid over N1 billion to about 900 staff, based on the conditions of service then.
“NAHCo paid what it considered to be the appropriate payment at that time and the burden was passed on to BPE who handled the privatization. Through BPE and PTAD, they have been sorting certain payments different from what NAHCo paid then.”
Mr Akerewole said the issue about the unpaid allowance as claimed by the ex-workers is a “misunderstanding between them, BPE and PTAD.”
“The ongoing issue has little or nothing to do with NAHCo as a company. NAHCo presented the list to them (BPE) and they used some criteria such as years and conditions of service to make payment,” he added.
Speaking on the allegation that NAHCo wants to shortchange the ex-workers, Mr Akerewole said it is untrue, as NAHCo was only requesting a refund of what it paid to the staff at the time of disengagement which is not connected to what PTAD wanted to pay the ex-workers.
“The money NAHCo is asking for is not part of what the workers are expecting. Their money is different, ours is different,” he said, adding that the company has no role in the issue of non-payment.
Responding to an inquiry by PREMIUM TIMES, BPE, through its spokesperson, Amina Tukur, wrote;
“The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) wishes to state that the privatization of the National Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) was done through share allotment where the major shareholders came together and took over the company and negotiated with the staff and disengaged them.
BPE did not disengage or pay staff entitlements as a result of the privatization of the company in 2005.”
No response was given to other inquiries by PREMIUM TIMES on the payment of the ex-workers.