Crisis imminent as PHCN workers summon emergency meeting over mass sack

PHCN protest08 November 2013, Abuja – Fresh crisis looms in the power sector as workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, have summoned an emergency meeting to deliberate on the next line of action, following the alleged sack of the majority of the workers and the failure of the federal government to proceed with the payment of their entitlements, in line with the agreement reached with the government on October 31, 2013.

It was gathered that majority of the workers, including the executives of the unions in all the 36 states of the federation were affected by the mass sack, raising concerns among the workers that the new owners might outlaw unionism in the power sector.

This development, coupled with the alleged failure of the federal government to implement the agreement reached on October 31, which resulted to a smooth handover of the PHCN assets to the new owners, prompted the Central Executive Council (CEC) of the unions to summon an emergency meeting in the evening today in Lagos.

It was also learnt that the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and Deputy President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Joe Ajaero, who had been on an official visit to the United Kingdom, had to cut short his visit and flew into the country last night to attend today’s meeting.

A top official of the union, who spoke to THISDAY on condition of anonymity, said the federal government deceived them with the agreement to ensure smooth handover of the power assets.

“The agreement provides that the balance of the union dues should be paid, while the remaining workers who have not received their full entitlements should be paid latest by November 15. It was also agreed that in line with labour laws, the executives of the unions shall not be affected in the disengagement exercise.

But since the agreement was signed, no worker has been paid and immediately after the handover, sack letters dated October 21 were handed over to both the unions’ executives and majority of the workforce, including those that have not been paid. They also wanted to divide the rank of the workers by issuing few people with re-engagement letters. The fact that the sack letters were dated October 21, while the agreement was reached on October 31 showed that the government had made up its mind to sack the workers before deceiving them to sign the agreement,” he explained.

On speculations that the workers had embarked on an industrial action, a member of the executive of the senior staff union,said the workers were not on strike but only decided to stay away to avoid confrontation with armed soldiers guarding the facilities.

“We went to ask them why they have not started paying the remaining staff and they used armed soldiers and civil defence corps to intimidate us. So, we decided to stay away to avoid being hit by stray bullets,” he said.

He confirmed that today’s meeting would decide the next line of action that would be used by the workers to press for their demands.

He, however, stated that any decision reached in the meeting will be implemented by both the disengaged and the re-engaged workers.

“In the spirit of solidarity, everybody will abide by any decision reached because an injury to one is an injury to all,” he added.

– Ejiofor Alike and Linda Eroke, This Day

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