Railway Workers Begin Warning Strike, Cripple Operations Nationwide

THE two labour unions in the Nigerian rail sector, the Nigerian Union of Railway Workers (NURW) and the Senior Staff Association (SSA) NRC Branch on Thursday shut down the operations of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), crippling passenger train services along the Lagos-Ibadan, Kaduna-Abuja and WarriItakpe routes, leaving many passengers stranded. 

This is even as the strike also affected rail cargo evacuation from the Lagos ports as many cargoes were left stranded inside the ports. 

When the Nigerian Tribune got to the Mobolaji Johnson Train Station in Ebute-Metta, the facility was under lock and key as protesting railway workers were seen turning back passengers who had come to the station to board the 8am Lagos to Ibadan train. 
A construction worker, who identified himself simply as Obinna, described the condition of the station as “like a graveyard”. 

Our reporter also visited the NRC office at the old train station at Dugbe axis of Ibadan but met the entry doors locked with protest placards glued to the doors. 

Some of the placards had inscriptions like: unbundle Nigerian Railway and ruin Nigeria; Chinese driving our Lagos-Ibadan train is illegal, stop it now; review our condition of service now. Also, the industrial action halted economic activities at the Goodluck Jonathan railway station in Owa Ewere, Ika North-East of Delta State.
All offices were deserted, coaches safely parked, while passengers who wanted to travel were stranded. 

The workers in their scores carried placards with inscriptions such as: FG give us enhanced salary and allowance; we can’t continue this way we, want the standard and improved condition of service; work for NRC and die in abject poverty; if railway workers are not important, Amaechi should travel by road to Abuja, Kaduna. 

The situation was the same in Abuja. Speaking to our reporter at Idu station, a driver who didn’t want his name in print said: “Dangote pays N300,000 to truck drivers, but here, NRC pays only N26,000 to us locomotive drivers. NRC has beautiful modern infrastructure with  zero welfare for workers,” he stated. 
Other protesters at the station carried placards that read: ‘railway workers salary is the poorest under the ministry of transportation’; ‘we can’t work like slaves just to pay loans taken by the Federal Government to build the railway’. 

Speaking, the President-General, Nigerian Union of Railway Workers (NURW), Innocent Ajiji said railway staff are the most poorly paid among all the parastatals in the Ministry of Transportation. 

“It will interest you to know that our minimum wage is N30,000, so when you deduct contributory housing scheme, pension, union dues and tax, the salary drops down to N26,000”, Ajiji said. 
Addressing journalists on the reason behind the strike, the Secretary-General of the NURW, Comrade Segun Esan, lamented that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had not taken the welfare of railway workers seriously. 

According to the NURW scribe, “In six years of his tenure as minister, he has only met us twice. The first time was a charade as the minister tried to instigate the workers against the union. The second time, which came up as an effort to avert the three-day warning strike, the minister left the meeting without reaching any reasonable conclusion with us. 

“Imagine a level seven officer of the NRC earning N30,000 as salary when his colleagues in the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) earns close to or even above a million naira. 
“How does the government expect us to survive with such starving wages? Our members pay children school fees, house rent, feed their families and clothe them all from such money. In this economic situation of the country, how does the government expect us to survive? 

“We have tried several times to meet with him (Minister of Transportation) on welfare issues of railway workers, but he has proven over time not to take the plight of railway workers seriously. At the last meeting with the minister, he left us in the meeting without anything being resolved. 

“The strike today has been largely successful. All passenger and cargo train services have been shut down nationwide. However, it’s just a three-day warning strike. After the three days, if the government refuses to listen to our plight and address our welfare issues, railway workers will go on indefinite strike action. When asked if the Minister had reached out to workers since they began the shutdown of train services in the early hours of Thursday, the NURW scribe explained that the minister, through the permanent secretary had reached out to protesting workers, but such plea had not been accepted. 

“The Minister of Transportation, through the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry has reached out to us in the course of today’s strike action that we should suspend the strike and wait for him to come and meet with us, but we have rejected the permanent secretary’s overtures. 

“We are not ready to suspend the strike unless something concrete is reached as regards workers welfare. Why should we suspend the strike because we want to wait for the Minister of Transportation to return? The three-day strike will go on except the ministry attends to our demands,” Comrade Esan told journalists

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