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mass transit buses parked – as AUMTCO workers strike bites hard

Workers in the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company (AUMTCO) commenced an indefinite strike on July 20. This was after two days of mass protests during which hundreds of the workers locked up the offices of the company, boldly standing up to the police who tried to break their ranks.

The workers who are members of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical & Recreation Services Employees (AUPCTRE) have not been paid for five months. They are demanding full payment of their wages for this period. Earlier in March, they had organised a 1-week strike. As at that time, they were being owed 3 months salaries. The management then claimed that it was constrained as a result of poor revenue generated through running the buses.

The March strike was called off after the management grudgingly promised to pay a month’s salary within a week But four months down the line, not a kobo has been paid. The company’s bosses claim that their hope was hinged on expected support from the Federal Capital Authority which had bailed the company out by paying salaries twice last year.

But, the argument that the AUMTCO does not generate enough money to pay workers, might not be correct after all. Speaking with Socialist Worker, Comrade Waheed Sikiru, the AUPCTRE FCT Secretary and a member of the Socialist Workers League noted that there are challenges being faced by drivers in terms of getting more passengers to use the mass transit buses, quite alright. But AUMTCO does presently attract more than enough money to pay workers’ wages, monthly.

The key obstacles he pointed out, are two. First, the buses do not have dedicated space on the roads like the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system in Lagos for example. They have to contest right of way with the smaller buses. Thus, while they are cheaper for longer journeys, they could be slower for passengers. The second has to do with the absence of AUMTCO bus stops and the fact that touts confront them at some of the general bus stops, because they cannot pay for “tickets” like non-corporately owned buses.

However, Comrade Sikiru illustrated how AUMTCO actually generates over eighty million naira per month. Dozens if not over a hundred buses out of the AUMTCO fleet of a thousand are hired every week by companies such as Berger for transporting workers in those establishments to and from work. Churches also hire a significant number at commercial prices most Sundays and during activities like revivals – which take place all too often! Many products are also advertised by companies by branding the buses.

AUPCTRE came up with these facts and figures when arguing with the company that its claim of lack of funds to pay the monthly wage bill of twenty seven million naira is false. AUMTCO’s management could not deny that it generates over N80m per month. It rather said that running costs, including the high price of diesel gulps the bulk of its revenue.

The workers are not being fooled by this questionable position. The running costs of course include the perks enjoyed by management staff, to the detriment of workers who have no other income beyond their salaries. The increase in the price of diesel is also not the fault of workers. The trade unions and socialists have continually decried deregulation of the prices of petroleum products such as diesel. Workers will not bear the burden of the policy decisions of government, meant to increase the wealth of the rich.

AUMTCO has done all it could to blackmail the workers to surrender. The strike has been described as an effort to sabotage the FCT’s transport system. But despite the company failing to heed its words after the March strike, a 21-day utltimatum was first issued by AUPCTRE, which was further extended by yet another 7-day notice before commencing the strike.

Even as the strike deepens, management continues with making false promises – in a bid to get workers back to work. At the end of the first week of the strike, it promised to pay a month’s salary before the end of July, urging the workers to resume duty while awaiting this. The workers insisted that they would not take anything less than three months’ from the backlog. But even that one month it promised was not paid on the last working day in July, as Socialist Worker went to press.

This is one struggle AUMTCO workers must NOT back off from. There must be no work without the full payment of their outstanding salaries. Workers who deliver services on the road must not bear the brunt of keeping the bosses comfortable in their air conditioned offices. The current situation in AUMTCO further goes to show that workers democratic control and management of public services such as transportation, as much as production in general, is central to ensuring genuine efficiency and social justice.

The bosses would of course not simply hand over such control to us. We must fight to win this with workers’ power, overthrowing their exploitative establishment and building a socialist order based on solidarity, cooperation and participatory-democratic planning.

by Segun Ogun