• and two workers are killed during demonstration in Nasarawa 

Unpaid-salaries-pension

four of the deceased workers and pensioners. culled from The Punch

The condemnable spate of unpaid salaries and pensions across the country is taking a lethal toll across the country. A recent report published by The Punch shows that, not less than 1,300 workers and pensioners have died as result of starvation, frustration and inability to pay for medical attention.

From the contents of the report, feedback from State Councils at a recent meeting with the NLC national leadership and further investigation by Socialist Worker this number is most likely an underestimation. This is a tragic situation and further calls for the need to have concerted action to end this new “normal” situation.

These workers’ deaths were preventable. Quite a number of them died from hunger and undernourishment. Many others suffered from chronic ailments such as hypertension and diabetes. These could be managed and they had been managing their health conditions before now. But money is required to purchase the needed medications for managing such diseases.

The workers had no means of buying their drugs. They were broke after months of being owed wages. Friends and relatives they could otherwise have turned to are equally broke. Most workers across the different states in the federation are employed in the public sector. And even those in the informal economy cannot sell to a working class which has no money to buy and are themselves also without money to lend, even to family members.

Workers  have resorted to selling what little properties they have including furniture at rock bottom prices to the few persons they can find to buy these off them. To make a terribly bad situation even worse, quite a number of workers  owe their banks, with their salaries as collateral. Interests on these debts continue to soar with their “defaulting” in servicing these loans!

The mere thought of a good chunk of whatever wages get paid by the states’ governments eventually being taken back by the banks is enough to raise the blood pressure of such indebted workers.

Over 1,000 of these casualties in a war being waged against working class people by the bosses were in Osun state, where the governor claims to be a “Marxist”! The Chairman of Osun State 2011/2012 Retirees Forum, Mr Omoniyi Ilesanmi informed The Punch that 1,130 members of the forum have been fatal victims. With this number from the ranks of those retired in just 2011/2012, one can only imagine the depths of deaths that have actually taken place there.

In Ilorin alone, within Kwara state, the number of lives lost is over a hundred. A very pathetic case in Oyo state before the seven weeks strike commenced was that of a teacher who slumped while teaching in the classroom and died. He had not eaten anything for days but continued as best as he could to try impart knowledge in the pupils, until he breathed his last.

At the tertiary level of education as well, deaths have been recorded from hunger and inability to pay medical bills. Dr  Dan Oludipe of the Tai Solarin University, Ogun state, informed that not less than five lives were thus lost in the institution. These included both teaching and non-teaching staff.

20 pensioners who were ill-fed and in need of medical attention which they could not access due to lack of funds and the fact that there is no universal health coverage collapsed and died during a pensioners’ verification exercise conducted by the Bauchi state government.

In Ondo and Ekiti states, 29 workers and 12 pensioners have been recorded as casualties in this brutal war being waged against the working class by the rich bosses in government. Six of the workers were from Ekiti state. One of them, who was a teacher at Aramoko-Ekiti, headquarters of the Ekiti West Local Government Area committed suicide. This was as a result of frustration according to Comrade Raymond Adesanmi, the NLC Ekiti State Council Chair.

The NLC State Council assured workers that it would press home with its strike until victory. An offer of two months salaries was initially turned down when the strike commenced in May. But eventually it called on workers to return to work in the last week of June, with “assurances” of the payment of just one month salaries by the government. This has led to mass anger of rank and file workers.

The situation in Ondo state is worse. 23 workers and 12 pensioners have died from the hardships that go with this huge backlog of salaries. The trade unions month long strike was long overdue before it started. It was literarily forced on the union bureaucracy which earlier had an “agreement” with Governor Olusegun Mimiko that was nothing but deceit.

This was after the several workers and pensioners had lost their lives already. The anguish felt by workers was demonstrated during the strike. Several vehicles owned by their government were destroyed by irate rank and file members of unions. NLC, TUC and the Joint Negotiating Council (Trade Union Side) of the public service said there was no going back until more than three months salaries were paid out of the seven months being owed.

But after 30 days, the agreement reached with government was for the payment of between one and two months salaries to workers in different ministries, departments and agencies. Nothing appears to have been said about compensation for the families of the 35 workers and pensioners who died as a result of the hell their lives were turned into.

The believe that trade unions and governments are “social partners” or “co-stakeholders” as well as the non-generalisation of the fightback waged by the two states and a few others account for these unfortunate agreements. It is time for the trade union movement to shake off these illusions and realise that workers’ lives mean nothing to the bosses.

The meeting of the NLC’s National Administrative Council with State Councils at the end of July confirmed that the situation is indeed terrible. Before then, the NLC leadership joined several state councils in rallies to demand the payment of outstanding salaries. But this has not yielded much positive results.

Immediately after the 2-day meeting, the NLC leadership led workers in the nearby Nasarawa state who had been on an indefinite strike, on a protest to the state governor Mr Al-Makura, on July 29. Police opened fire on the defenceless workers while the NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba was inside the government house to present the grievance of the workers to the governor. Ali Umbugadu, a  worker in the state ministry of education was killed and three others injured.

 This goes to show us the depth of what the situation is. We are at war, a class war. The bosses have been on the offensive too long. Non-payment of wages is an artillery they are using and using with brutality – resulting in rising casualties on our side.

This is the time to wage relentless struggle as a concerted nationwide fightback. We cannot continue begging those feeding fat on the social wealth to give us the crumbs we get as salaries from the social wealth we create. NLC and TUC national leaderships realise this is a national emergency for the working class.

They now have to draw the logical conclusion from this for a national fightback. The least that can be done now is to shutdown the country till wages are paid. We call for an indefinite national general strike. This is the least we can do to honour the dead and give hope to the living starvelings, that we are.

by Baba Aye