By Bose Adelaja
LAGOS—Commuters were stranded, yesterday, when Lagos Bus Rapid Transport, BRT’s drivers and ticketers on the Ikorodu-CMS route downed tools over unpaid salaries and unfavourable condition of service.
The BRT scheme, operated by Primero Transport Services Ltd., began operation in November 2015 and has 434 buses on its fleet; and more than 2,000 staff.
It was gathered that the workers convened an emergency meeting at about 5.45a.m. at the loading station, after which they converged on the bus corridor and barricaded it. The protest was orderly.
Some of the workers, who spoke to Vanguard, lamented that their terms of service had been reversed, with salaries slashed from N60,000 to N45,000.
A driver, Mr. Julius Adejire, said: “We are still waiting for our July salaries. The funny thing is that as at Monday evening, we discovered that some other staffers, including the engineers and ground staff, have been receiving salaries alerts. Can we drive this bus on empty stomach?’’
Adejire said that apart from delayed salaries, the drivers wanted improved welfare and working conditions.
He said: “The policy guiding our job is another issue; we are working like slaves because as a driver you cannot stop to ease yourself or have break time.
“We are supposed to be doing 40 hours in a week, but they cowed us into doing 48 hours with just one off day instead of two.
“We have been tolerating them because we believe this is a new project that needs to be supported, but the situation is getting tougher.
“We don’t even know where we are heading; the buses are still new. Is it when the buses go bad that they will pay us?
“In our appointment letter, they said we will receive N60,000 as basic salary and N20,000 as performance bonus. After five months they changed it to N40,000 basic and N40,000 bonus with a lot of conditions.
‘We sleep under bridge’
“They are trying to instil discipline when there is no staff bus or accommodation arrangement for drivers who come from as far as Sango-Ota, Badagry and Agbara.”
He added that drivers, who could not afford to sleep on the bridge near the BRT bus shelter, pay N500 daily to sleep in a nearby church.
He said: “They should revert to the agreement on our appointment letter and also tell us the exact day of the month we will be receiving our salaries.
“This is the only job we depend on, but the salary is often delayed, so how do we survive? We don’t collect pension even if you work for 10 years.”
The company’s Managing Director, Mr. Fola Tinubu, said the delay in salaries payment was due to an error on the part of the bank handling the disbursement.
He said: “It is really due to an error and we have corrected it. The money was paid yesterday (Monday). So why they are doing this beats me, because the money should be in their accounts by now.”
On the allegation of reviewed salary structure, Tinubu said the company’s management took the decision to instil discipline in the protesting drivers.
He said: “When I took over, they were being paid a basic salary of N60,000 and bonus of N20,000, but nobody was being paid the bonus.
“So I thought it was unfair for them not to get their bonus and I made sure they get their bonus.
“However, we discovered that majority of them were not conscientious and when they take the buses out they just park somewhere and don’t work.
“So we decided to shift the salary to N40,000 and the bonus to N40,000; it is same amount.
“We are not trying to take money away from them, but we don’t want to pay people that will not work and we don’t want those people in the system anyway.
“The way the country is today you cannot expect us to be paying people that don’t want to work. So that’s the genesis of the whole issue.”
Meanwhile, some stranded passengers expressed their disappointment and urged the Lagos State Government to intervene in the matter in the interest of commuters and residents of Lagos as commercial buses used the opportunity to increase their fares on the route.
Mr. Hakeen Abdulraham, an insurance broker, said: “The buses have been a sort of life saver, especially for residents of Ikorodu because of the comfort and relatively cheaper fares.
“But I was shocked when I got to the bus terminal early today (yesterday) to discover that the buses had yet to arrive at 6.30a.m.
“It is quite disappointing that this is happening at a time when the economy is biting hard as some of the yellow-painted commercial buses (Danfo) may want to take undue advantage of the situation to hike their fares.”