By Emmanuel Addeh
Oil workers attached to the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Wednesday embarked on a three-day warning strike over the failure of government to pay their salaries in the last three months.
Coming under their union, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN), the protesters maintained that they were downing tools following the authorities’ insistence on compelling them to join the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
The striking senior workers insisted that the government had not done enough to convince them that the IPPIS was robust enough to handle the peculiarities of the environment they work, noting that it was wrong to lump them with civil servants on the IPPIS platform.
Members of the union, who protested at the Abuja headquarters of the ministry, were drawn from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF), Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NNRA) and others.
The National Public Relations Officer (PRO) of PENGASSAN, who is also the Rivers State Secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Mr Fortune Obi, told THISDAY that if after three days, the demands of the protesters are not met, it will become a nationwide issue to be handled by the national body of the union.
There was no immediate response from the government, although the union insisted that almost all avenues for negotiation had been explored without success.
Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari, during the presentation of the 2020 budget proposal to the joint session of the National Assembly in Abuja, said all federal government workers not captured on the IPPIS platform by October 31, 2019 would not be paid their monthly salaries.
But the union’s spokesman stated that apart from the fact that the IPPIS platform was not secure, it had failed to consider the difference between regular civil servants and oil workers.
He said: “It’s a three-day warning strike by members in the government regulatory agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum basically because of their inclusion in the IPPIS system, which we have rejected ab initio due to the various challenges we have had with it and the associated inefficiencies.
“PENGASSAN resolved about the system long ago. We want assurance that this system is robust enough to handle the challenges. We are saying we work in a peculiar sector where our members earn some allowances different from the civil service structure.
“Therefore, lumping us into that platform without capturing the peculiarities is unacceptable. Because of that, for the past three months, our members in these agencies have not been paid their salaries.
“We have said clearly that we work in a peculiar environment, where earned allowances are different from the civil service payment system. In the civil service, they don’t work offshore, they don’t work in tank farms, they don’t work in haulage system, so for personnel from the peculiar agencies, there are earned allowances. These are not captured in the IPPIS system.
“We need the guarantee that this system is robust enough to capture these issues. You can’t just go and implement something on a platform that is generally for civil servants and their structure. They must consider us as peculiar operators within the system.”
He noted that there was no problem with the existing platform, suggesting that the government has ulterior motives for insisting on moving the workers to the new platform.
“We work in circles in certain locations. In the civil service, it’s not circle driven. So, if I am working in an FPSO located in the Gulf of Guinea and my work circle is 28 days in, 28 out, as I return, how am I going to get my earned allowances.
“What the IOCs do is to book it into their system, we need the assurances, otherwise leave us where we are currently because that same application we are using currently is domiciled with the accountant general. So why the change to a system that’s not reliable?
“Low cadre persons can break the security of that system, it’s not robust enough. We have made frantic efforts to call the attention of government to our people’s peculiar issues. Nothing is done,” he lamented.