The Trade Union Congress recently condemned the funding of infrastructure projects with workers’ contributory pensions. This was after some federal lawmakers and the minister of power, works and housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola called for the deployment of monies in retirement saving accounts for this purpose.
In a widely circulated press statement signed by Comrade Boboi Kagama and Comrade Simeso Amachree the TUC President and Acting Secretary General respectively, the trade union federation correctly pointed out that infrastructural development is a duty of the government, the burden of which should not be shifted onto the backs of poor working class-people.
TUC further pointed out that houses build by private developers including those which are supposed to be “low cost housing” are priced beyond the reach of workers. It thus called for workers to be allowed to draw loans from their Retirement Saving Accounts with single digit interest rates, for them to purchase houses.
In the statement, the TUC gave a peep into the secret of pensions as a form of now your suffering continues when it observed that “the 25 percent of total contribution paid at first instance to workers on retirement is too small”. It further argued that “anything less than 50 percent defeats the purpose of the scheme”.
The bosses did not willingly grant pensions to workers after retirement, as charity. Trade unions fought for this in the nineteenth century. Before then, workers toiled for upwards of sixteen hours, year in, year out. After these, they were left to their own devices which meant dying in poverty.
While the bosses conceded, they found ways of making money out of such retirement plans won through struggle. They set up insurance companies and developed actuarial science, which served to help appropriate still more of the surplus value created by workers, even as pensions became institutionalized in the 1930s, after the Great Depression.
The contributory pension scheme which has now become universalized was part of the neoliberal attacks of the rich, which they used to roll back the reforms won in the 1930s to 1950s, when the bosses were afraid that mass anger as a result of economic crisis and wars could lead to the further spread of revolutions.
With this type of retirement plan, we as workers have to still draw out monies from our wages that are not enough in the first place, to save for when we can no longer serve the capitalists well, as a result of old age. Pension funds administrators of all shades have sprung up to manage these funds. They salaries that the fat cats who manage these funds earn, on top of our monies is scandalous.
To make matters worse, pension funds have been used to draw trade union bureaucrats into some sort of support for the capitalist system. The leaders of the trade union movement in the US for example, found it difficult to speak out when the economic crisis started almost a decade ago, because they sit on boards of corporations which leverage on pension funds for all sorts of investments.
The present agitation of some sections of the bosses for pension funds to be “freed” for more use in financing infrastructural development is actually the continuation of a dangerous trend. When the Pension Reform Act was passed in 2004, there were a few safeguards won by the NLC and TUC regarding limits of what pension funds could be deployed to use on.
But, the 2010 review of this law has rolled back these safeguards already. For example, since then, pension funds administrators have been allowed to invest up to 10% of the retirement savings of workers in their custody for (mainly private sector-driven) investments in infrastructure!
As at 2014, pension funds in Nigeria amounted to $28bn. The bosses and their government have their eyes on this. It is not enough that we are exploited while we work, and also made to put money aside for when we can no longer work. Money which they will not give us more than a quarter of when we retire because they are using such monies to make even more money.
The bosses want to take more risk with monies from our sweat. Working class-people must resist this. Socialist Worker supports TUC’s condemnation of the use of pension funds for infrastructural development. And we call on the trade union movement as a whole to call for an overhauling of the contributory pension scheme. Fully state and private sector employers-funded pensions ought to be a right. After all, labour creates the wealth which they pocket!
- Lionel Akpoyivo