The National Pension Commission (PenCom) has begun a nationwide exchange of ideas with self-employed persons and workers in the informal sector ahead of the commencement of the Micro Pension scheme in the country.
It said about fifty million informal sector employees would be attracted into the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) using the novel scheme.
Micro Pension is a financial programme for the provision of pension services to self-employed persons and informal sector workers.
PeCom said the programme has been successful in India, Kenya, Ghana and other countries even as it is expected to take off in the country before the end of this year.
Addressing participants at the one day workshop on the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) for Self Employed Tailors and Garment Workers in Lagos recently, the Director General of PenCom, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu said the Federal Government planned to bring the over 50 million workers in the informal sector into the CPS using the Micro Pension initiative.
She said Government hopes to bring at least 20 million informal sector workers and self-employed persons into the Scheme in the next four years and assured that necessary arrangements were being put in place to ensure a smooth take off of the Scheme later this year.
“Take care of your financial needs in old age now that you are working, not later. Whatever you gain here please share with your colleagues at the branches and local units,” Mrs. Anohu-amazu admonished.
Also, the Head of Research and Corporate Strategy Department at PenCom, Dr. Farouk Aminu who presented a paper titled “Contributory Pension for Self Employed Tailors and Garment Workers” reviewed extensively the features of the CPS and the Pension Reform Act, 2014 with emphasis on coverage, access to retirement benefits under the scheme and the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).
He assured the workers that PenCom understood that the informal sector is characterised by the absence of formal structures, low and irregular incomes earned by workers except those on fixed salaries, highly mobile and flexible jobs, lack of permanent work address in many instances and is ready to ease the stress associated with registration and participation for the target workers.
Dr. Farouk said the above peculiarities require special registration and customer service platforms even as the Commission is anticipating erratic contributions, remittance and withdrawal arrangements.
PenCom, he added, hopes to make the scheme flexible to accommodate workers in the informal sector and self-employed persons, adding that the Commission is ready to partner trade associations, Non Governmental Organisation (NGOs) and religious bodies to make the Scheme work, he added.
The Head of Research and Corporate Strategy at PenCom also highlighted some of the benefits that self-employed people and workers in the informal sector could reap by participating in the Scheme saying in addition to providing them income in their old age and inculcating a savings culture through highly protected and regulated investment, the scheme would afford them the opportunity to connect to other programmes of government while helping to finance infrastructure across the country.
They could as well use the balance in their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) as equity contribution for residential mortgages and support their businesses and benefit from other micro-credit schemes and special awareness programme affiliated to the scheme, he said.
He stated that additional benefits to self-employed persons and informal sector workers include the cover provided under the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), explaining that under this arrangement, Government would bridge shortfalls or financial losses from investment of their accumulated retirement savings and guarantee them minimum pension in retirement, irrespective of how much they are able to save before retiring.
This initiative will be funded by an annual subvention of 1 per cent of monthly wage of Federal Government employees, annual levy on PenCom and pension operators as well as pension fund investment income, he explained.
Meanwhile, the President of the Nigerian Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigerian (NUTGTWN), Comrade Oladele Hunsu said “PenCom is here to tell us how it plans to bring Tailors and other self-employed persons into the Contributory Pension Scheme and we are expected to share with them our experiences, concerns and observations on how to make this possible.”
The General Secretary of the union, Comrade Issa Aremu recalled that National Provident Fund (NPF) that was established to provide pension for workers in the private sector was scrapped because of its shortcomings. Also, the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) that was set up in 1993 was sabotaged paving the way for the establishment of the Contributory Pension Scheme for workers in the private and public sectors in 2004. He also noted that the Pension Reform Act, 2014 extended the coverage of the Scheme to self-employed people and workers in the informal sector including the over 10,000 Tailors and Garment workers across the country.
The workers asked PenCom to clarify the minimum and maximum entry age for self-employed persons and informal sector workers under the CPS as well as how much and at what intervals they need to make contributions into the scheme.
They were also worried about the mode of payment of pension to them wondering “how can we access our pension when we retire,” adding “We don’t want to stand long hours on queues or suffer the fate of pensioners under the residual defined benefit schemes.”
They said they would not like their accumulated saving and interest thereon taxed and would appreciate it if government could incorporate health insurance and loans scheme into the programme as well as making it possible for part of their pension saving to be used to provide them machines and equipment among other things.