Nigerian electricity workers threaten nationwide blackout in 48 hrs

*Protest transfer of assets

Oscarline Onwuemenyi

18 January 2012, Sweetcrude, Abuja – Electricity workers in the country under the auspices of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) on Wednesday threatened to down tools and subsequently incite a nationwide blackout if the Federal government fails to take definite steps to resolve all labour-related issues in the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) within 48 hours.

The union members are also protesting their scheduled transfer to the various PHCN successors companies at the corporate headquarters of PHCN in Abuja, adding that government has remained hypocritical in its handling of labour related issues in the privatisation exercise, thus, its decision to employ drastic measures, starting with the protest.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, has explained that staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) at the corporate headquarters in Abuja are being redeployed to its successor companies, following the winding up of PHCN with effect from January 1, 2012.

He noted that going by the Act that established the PHCN and its subsequent devolution into different generation, transmission and distribution companies, PHCN should have ceased to exist by 2007.

He stated that, “The PHCN has been issued with this transfer order by the authorities, which has occasioned the current transfer of PHCN corporate headquarters staff not only to the various successor companies but also to the parent ministry and other agencies of government where their services would be required.

“These processes are without prejudice to prior agreements reached with the workers on their entitlements, including the 50% salary increase which government has graciously granted the workers. The transferred workers shall enjoy their enhanced salaries, benefits and allowances in whichever successor company to which they have been redeployed.”

According to Nnaji, “This exercise is therefore a routine transfer of staff and not a displacement or redundancy exercise that could warrant any form of anxiety or protest.”

He added that, “The regulatory agency has already directed that no further funds be made available to the PHCN as a corporate body. Therefore staff who choose to remain in the former PHCN corporate headquarters building – rather than proceed forthwith to the companies to which they have been redeployed – would find that there is no work to do in the building and that there is nobody to pay them at the end of the month for doing nothing in that building.

“For the record, the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act, 2005 empowers the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) to incorporate an initial holding company within six months of the coming into force of the Act. This holding company would assume the staff, assets and liabilities of the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). This was how PHCN came into being.

He explained that the NCP was also mandated (Section 8) to create a number of successor companies which will assume PHCN staff, assets and liabilities. This was to be done within eight months after the incorporation of PHCN. Subsequently, NCP created six (6) generation, one (1) transmission and 11 distribution companies, in addition to other marketing, bulk purchase, and liability asset management companies.

NUEE, however, alleged that the ministry of power has instructed the Managing Director of PHCN, Mr. Hussein Labo to begin the process of transferring the workers at the headquarters to successor companies, and that the transfer letters were been secretly printed for distribution to the workers any time soon; a development they claimed was untimely.

According to NUEE’s zonal organising secretary for north-central, comrade Temple Iworima, government and the union are yet to conclude negotiations on outstanding labour related issues, hence, the necessity to hold on to such actions like the proposed transfer as agreed by both parties in their meetings with the mediation panel headed by Mr. Hassan Sunmonu.

“We are demonstrating against government’s refusal to sincerely look into labour related issues in the privatisation of PHCN. Government should do the right thing and not going behind to write transfer letters to the staff which we are against because we are still discussing with the committee they set up.

“We were supposed to hold a meeting with the committee but the strike held us back only for the minister of power to summon the MD of PHCN to his office and they are printing letters of transfer as we speak now, but we insist that all labour issues must be sorted out else we will down tool and when we do, you know what that will mean,” Iworima stated.

About the Author