PHCN workers back to work

Okey Ndiribe

18 November 2011, Sweetcrude, ABUJA—Workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) resolved to resume at their duty posts for a period of two weeks, beginning from today, to enable the government implement the outstanding agreements reached with the workers.

The workers, who are protesting the occupation of their offices and other installations of the company by soldiers, acted on appeal from the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in resolving to return to work.

Speaking at a briefing in Abuja, Thursday, on the army occupation of PHCN facilities and the lingering dispute between the workers and the governmnet, acting General Secretary of the NLC, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, served the government a two-week ultimatum to address all outstanding disputes it has with the electricity workers or face an indefinite industrial action by them with the support of NLC and other affiliate unions.

Flanked by leaders of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC), Lakemfa explained that the electricity workers had not been on strike as widely speculated as a result of the deployment of soldiers in PHCN intallations and offices.

According to him, the workers, instead, had embarked on prayers to God to touch the heart of President Goodluck Jonathan over the development.

He said the workers were also praying that the government honoured several agreements it reached with the electricity sector unions over Jonathan administration’s planned privatisation of PHCN.

In his remarks, General secretary of NUEE, Mr. Joe Ajaero, accused the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, of embarking on a campaign of vendetta against the leadership of the union for opposing his nomination as a minister by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Lakemfa said: ” Among the agreements reached between the unions in the electricity sector and the Federal Government are: A 50 per cent increase in the salaries of workers of PHCN; conversion of 10,000 casual workers into permanent staff; involvement of NUEE and, SSAEAC, in the evaluation of PHCN installations that are to sold by Bureau for Public Enterprises; settlement of labour-related issues before the eventual privatisation of PHCN”.

Lakemfa explained that among the labour issues that need to be settled were payment of various entitlements of PHCN workers including gratuities and pensions.

Ajaero said: ” Despite our grievances, the Minister has refused to dialogue with the leadership of our unions. He said he would not talk to us since we opposed his appointment as a Minister”.

Giving further insight into the increase in the number of soldiers deployed to PHCN installations nation-wide, Ajaero dismissed the Government’s claims that it was a precaution to secure such installations from terrorist attacks adding that the actual reason for Government’s action was for the troops to serve as escorts to foreign investors and officials of BPE who have been visiting these facilities.

In his own comments at the occasion, the President of the (SSAEAC) Engr. Bede Opara stated that even though his union agreed that there was need for reforms in the electricity sector, there was need for their own contribution to be accommodated. He further advised the Government to desist from threatening workers adding that this would not resolve the crisis in the sector but instead lead to its escalation.

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