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Anxiety in NSITF over move to rejig staff emoluments

There is palpable fears that the steady industrial peace reigning in the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) may be jeopardise over fresh move to align conditions of service of the staff with that of mainstream civil service.

One of the recommendations of the administrative panel of enquiry on the financial state of NSITF set up by the Ministry of Labour and Employment to study the administrative issues in the management of NSITF recommended that the staff conditions of service should be reviewed with immediate effect to correct lapses contained therein.

The ‘lapses’ referred to are the conditions of service the management of the Fund reached with the unions, which were within its purview, but the administrative panel thinks otherwise.

The committee said it discovered that the payment of some allowances were not approved by the National Income, Salaries and Wages Commission and also made allusions to non-compliance with the public service rules.

On close examination of the rules, the books said otherwise.

Specifically, chapter 16 of the Public Service Rule 2006 provided for the application of the Service Rules to Federal Government parastatals.

Precisely, rule 160101 of the public service defines a parastatal as a government-owed organisation established by statute to render specified service to the public.

It is structured and operates according to the instrument establishing it and also comes under the policy directions of government.

Also, rule 160103 states that parastatals are to retain and improve existing rules, procedures and practices in their establishment and ensure there are no deviations from the general principles of the public service rules.

However, it states in an unambiguous terms that it is only in the absence of internal rules and regulations on any matter, that the relevant provisions of the public service rules shall apply.

It follows therefore that the later part the rule 160103 clearly provides that NSITF as a parastatal is allowed to have its staff conditions of service, which is purely contractual between the board and its employees different from the conditions of service obtainable in the mainstream civil service.

Indeed, the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation (TCPC) headed by the late Hamza Zayyad, benchmarked and classified NSITF as a financial services provider akin to insurance, banking and other related services and in tandem with prescribed salaries and allowances in the service of NSITF that should be competitive enough.

A dressing allowance for example is a necessity for NSITF staff as the bulk of NSITF staff who are deployed as operational staff have as the major thrust of their duty, interfacing with employers from whom NSITF collect contributions. To appear well dressed at all time in the course of their duty is a necessity. All financial sector employers maintain this kind of allowance in one form or the other.

This provision has also been tested in the law court in a case between a former Managing Director of NSITF, Dr Mohammed Aji, Monisola Adetola and 10 others at the Court of Appeal, Abuja division on Wednesday, 16th April, 2003 with case number CA/A/45/2002, Justice Oguntade considered amongst other issues conversed in the appeal by NSITF, “Whether NSITF MB was obliged to obey the directives of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) through the Honourable Minister of Labour and Productivity directing NSITF to recall and reinstate 11 members of staff of NSITF that were dismissed by the Board.”

Justices Oguntade, Z.A Buka Chuwa and Oduyemi struck out the case of the Plaintiffs against the 1st Defendant Dr Aji (MD of NSITF) on account of the fact that the claim against him was statute barred, but dismissed the case the 2nd Defendant (NSITF MB) on account of the fact that both the SGF and Minister of Labour and Productivity lacked the power to compel or direct the (NSITF MB) to reinstate the dismissed staff as NSITF MB (Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF Management Board) is a creation of statute with its own legal personality distinct from even the President, Attorney General of the Federation, the Honourable Minister of Labour and the Head of Service of the Federation who were all joined in the suit as defendants.

The Court went further to say that the SGF had no business interfering with the contract between NSITF MB and the Plaintiffs (the dismissed staff of NSITF) and that the letter written from the office of the SGF asking the appellants (the MD NSITF and NSITF MB) to re-absorb the Plaintiffs must be seen as no more than advisory in nature.

It is apparent from the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case that neither the Minister of Labour nor any other person can lawfully interfere with any terms of contract between NSITF MB and its employees.

More importantly most of the allowances were products of collective agreements secured by various staff unions to which NSITF staff belong duly approved by the board in which a permanent secretary (Dr Iloh) was a member.

Again, the allowance that was highlighted in the investigative committee report, it must be pointed out that the allowance is purely the monetised value of prerequisite of management staff that were hitherto provided in kind before the monetisation policy of the Federal Government under President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was gathered that the administrative committee did not have any interface with former Managing Directors and General Managers who still have institutional memory of all that transpired before the commencement of the contributory pension in 2004 to have adequate knowledge of the various transitions of the Fund from its days as National Provident Fund to the present period.

A former Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr Clement Iloh, who served his entire carrier in the ministry and was a member of the last board of the Fund and who was said to have huge institutional memory of happenings at the NSITF was said not have been consulted as well as the immediate past Managing Director, Abubakar Munir amongst others who had served the Fund in one way or another.

To the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance, and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), the time to fight for the remunerations of the staff is not now.

Its National President, Oyinkansola Olasanoye said the union is more preoccupied with putting the Fund on the path of growth and stability and that the issue of emoluments is a struggle for another date.

Olasanoye stated that the union is not worried about the recommendation of the administrative panel of enquiry on the financial state of NSITF headed by Ishaya Awotu on the dressing allowance of the staff.

Her words: “The dressing allowance the administrative committee empanelled by the Minister is saying the workers are no longer entitled to is a product of collective agreement with the union. But for us as a union, the struggle is not about allowances, what we are preoccupied with is how to safe the Fund from collapsing.”

The union leader said NSITF staffers are not core civil servants and cannot be subjected to civil service rule, saying, “are the workers civil service in accordance to the law that set up NSITF? The ministry of labour is supposed to have a representative on the board of the NSITF. The Fund is different from the National Productivity Centre where the Ministry of labour can issue directives. The Act that set up the NSITF does not call it an annex of the ministry. It only asks the ministry to send in a representative who has always been the Permanent Secretary.”

She insisted that the excuse of fraud and corruption being cited as reasons for not inaugurating the board is not tenable saying nothing is new as the case has been before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and court since 2014.

She wondered why the case in court should stop the inauguration of a board that is empowered to serve as umpire between the management board and staff whenever disagreement arise.

She said: “The so-called fraud the Minister is talking about too place in 2014 and the matter is already in the court of competent jurisdiction and the EFCC. With a representative of the ministry on the board, there was fraud in 2014, won’t there be more fraud in the absence of a board?

“I don’t think Nigerians need the union to tell the Minister what is right and what is not right. Our position is that that Institution must not die for two reasons. The first is that our members are working there. The second reason is that the money for the rehabilitation of injured workers is there. Will the NSITF be able to take care of injured workers with all these distraction and absence of the board? If anything happen to us, where we will get treatment and compensation from because they are bringing politics and ambition to a programme that is of great national interest.”

Olasanoye ruled out embarking on protests and strike actions by ASSBIFI for resolving the non-inauguration of the board.

Olasanoye declared that survival of NSITF is the major concern of the union to ensure it delivers on its mandate for the benefit of injured Nigerian workers as well as the workers of the establishment.

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