The workers' union of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has called for unbundling of the 1955 Act of the parastatal, which limits involvement in rail transportation to the corporation.
The industrial union, Nigeria Union of Railways (NUR), also accused the Ministry of Transportation of having dubiously concessioned the corporation’s 3,505km narrow gauge system to an American consortium, General Electric (GE).
The position of the union was made known in a press statement issued on Monday. Signed by Mr. Segun Esan, the union's Secretary-General, the NUR stated that if the government fails to rework the 1955 Act, it will remain an impediment to private sector involvement in rail transportation. The NUR called on the government to replace the Act with a legal framework that will provide public and private investors with a level playing ground.
The union commended the Federal Government on the reconstitution of the National Council on Privatisation, stating that the newly reconstituted council will curtail the shadiness with which the Ministry of Transportation is going about the concession of the NRC to General Electric (GE).
NUR alleged that Mr. Rotimi Amaechi , Minister of Transportation, is in an indecent haste to unilaterally concession the NRC to GE for a period of 30 years. The process, claimed the union, is bereft of transparency and worker participation, especially plans to engage the workers on how to solve all labor-related issues. It called on acting President Yemi Osinbajo to probe the process.
“GE’s expression of interest was dated September 2016 and advert for expression of interest for the bidding was in January 2017. Apart from this, GE requested for a zero percent transfer of workers, while the Ministry of Transportation is saying that 20 per cent of the present workforce will be absorbed by the GE and the remaining 80 percent of the workforce will be sent to a University of Railway Technology that will be established by the concessionaire," said the workers' union.
It argued that this is bizarre and indicates dishonesty.
"An honest and public-spirited concession will squarely address all labor engagement and disengagement issues. It will be transparent enough to accommodate the workers union representatives to determine what happens to them before and after concession," stated NUR.
Relatedly, the President of the NUR, Mr. Saidu Garba, said the union will not stop the Federal Government from selling its assets. He, however, said that such exercise must be done transparently and in a way that must address the subsisting infrastructure deficit in the rail transport sub-sector.
He expressed hope that the reconstituted council on privatization, with the acting President as Chairman, will address breaches of due diligence in the planned privatization of the NRC.
"We have not been fortunate enough to get privatization or concession really right in this country probably because of our policy inconsistency, corruption and lack of political will. With the hasty way railway concession is being pursued, we feel that caution should be taken.
“We wonder why all the inventories on the entire assets of Nigerian Railways should be handed over to a preferred concessionaire whose document of expression of interest predates the newspaper advert for the bidding,” said Mr. Garba.
Early in the year, the NUR addressed a press conference where it announced its opposition to the planned concession, which it said lacked due diligence and made no arrangements regarding how workers will be paid their deserving severance benefits before the commencement of concession.