Fresh industrial unrest looms in Power Sector

Prof Chinelo NeboOLUONYE KONYEGWAEHI 16 August 2013, Sweetcrude, Lagos – There is mounting tension and apprehension in the Nigerian Power sector as organised labour is mobilising members for a showdown with government over apparent hide and seek game concerning workers’ entitlements and rights ahead of new investors’ takeover of the assets of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.

Besides the fact that government seems to be playing games with the terminal benefits of the workers after both parties reached agreement in November 2012,  according to labour, the government has continued to undermine industrial peace in the industry.

A 14-day ultimatum issued to the Minister of Power and copied the Minister of Labour and Productivity, over some grievances, has expired with government appearing unperturbed.

Angered by perceived care-free attitude on the part of the government, leaders of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, investigation revealed, have begun massive mobilisation of workers for a major confrontation with government.
In a petition to the Minister of Power which contains the ultimatum, the General Secretary of NUEE, Comrade Joseph Ajaero, said: “We have been watching with keen interest the issues surrounding staff promotion in the recent time in Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the manipulations associated with it.

“It is quite amazing that some staff especially at the top echelon were promoted without due adherence to Federal Character Policy, Public Service Rules and PHCN Conditions of Service. We also have it in good authority that by July 2013, the Ministry had commenced the promotion of a selected few, which has witnessed the bribery of union leaders with promotion without recommendation.”

He added: “Going by PHCN’s Conditions of Service, it is expected that by June 2013, promotion of workers in the power sector would have been conducted.

“Therefore, we cannot but request that promotion of all eligible staff in PHCN by two grade levels be carried out urgently since this has become a norm. Besides, you would recall that the agreement and severance calculations signed between the Unions and Federal Government captured up to June 2012 but due to Government’s delay, another year has passed going by today’s date.

“Consequently, we demand that workers entitlement for the one year not captured by the agreement should be computed pro-rata and paid to staff before full severance payment is effected. But should the Ministry remain evasive in resolving these issues at the end of fourteen (14) days, including the reversal of illegal re-appointment of the Director General of National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN), which had been reported to your office, the Union will not be held responsible for any industrial
unrest this may precipitate.”

It was gathered that the ultimatum has since elapsed without government’s positive action and leaders of NUEE are not taking it lightly.

Speaking on the development, Ajaero declared that the workers would confront the government on the issues any moment from now, citing other disturbing actions by government that clearly show not only insincerity, but also, shady intentions.

He said “Any moment from now, we are going to engage the government in a show down because those that run Power Ministry believe we are inconsequential. We will write them letters, they will not acknowledge it. They feel too big to acknowledge letters. We have written series of letters on some ugly developments in the sector but they have refused to even acknowledge them or address issues raised.

“Part of the disturbing developments, is the issue of the Pension. As part of the agreement reached last year, our members are to open Retirement Saving Accounts, RSAs with Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs, for them to key into the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS. They have done that and our agreement is clear on how the remittances should be made. We have the contribution expected from to commence from 2004, the one Government is to pay and the one that management is to pay with current contribution that has been calculated.

“Government has given the workers a sort of pay advise that each worker in PHCN now understands how much he or she is collecting and how much will go into the pension fund. The negotiation is in two components.  The one going to pension and the one the workers are to receive as cash. So, if the total is 10 million for instance, 6 million will go into the workers’ pension while the remaining 4 million will paid in cash to the workers. But what the government is planning to do is pay 4 million cash and tells the public that the workers have paid.

“We said no, the pension component should go into workers’ RASs which they have opened. The one is to be paid in cash should be paid as cash. The government appears unwilling to do this. We suspect that there is something shady going on.  The government has not funded the arrears and secondly, government is supposed to commence deduction.  We received a letter that deduction should be commenced from June, and we told them it is not possible because the agreement we had was that government should pay and private investors come in, they will pay 7.5 and the workers’ pay 7.5 per cent.

“It was equally agreed that government should fund, but the circular they sent showed that government did not. They now want to deduct the workers 7.5. To worsen the matter, the circular said the money should be paid into dedicated or fictitious account when the workers have RSAs. The question we have asked is who are the signatories to the dedicated accounts? We are battle ready to confront them”.

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