Shortage of manpower hits power sector after mass sack

PHCN protestEluonye Koyegwuaehi

16 November 2013, Sweetcrude, Lagos – SHORTAGE of manpower has hit the nation’s power sector after an indiscrimate mass sack of workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) by the Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, in the wake of the hasty hand-over of PHCN facilities to new owners.

The BPE had after the new owners took over the facilities on November 1, sacked over 60 per cent of the workers including almost all the union leaders which has created tension and a looming industrial unrest in the fragile sector.

While government handed-over to new owners on November 1, the BPE had on Monday November 4, issued sack letters dated October 21, to the workers indscriminately without bothering whether they were paid their severance benefits or not.

Besides the BPE action said to have breached the agreement reached between government and oganised labour on the eve of the hand-over that none of the workers not paid their entitlements would be sacked, against all known standards and labour norms, the BPE allegedly to sack almost all the union leaders.

At the same time, it gave six months contract of employment to workers indiscriminately without bothering to know the status, competence and state of health of such workers.

Like the sack letters, the re-engagement letters were equally dated October 21.

It has long being discovered that BPE relied on a rationalisation list allegedly prepared by the immediate past Minister of Power, Professor Barth Nnaji, without auditing or scrutunising it.

There has been widespread claims that many of those given employment were either retired or dead.

Currently, investigation revealed that the sector is grossly under-manned as well as lacking competent hands.

Today, many of the transformer technicians were said to have been sacked by the BPE, leaving customers to be grappling with erratic power supply.

A business manager in one of the units in Lagos, who spoke on condition of anonymity, decried the manner the workers were sacked without recourse to their competence, experience and other requirements to stabilize power supply during this transition period.

He said “in most of the units, or facilities we are experiencing acute shortage of personnel. Those that know the jobs have been sacked. In most places, what you have now are marketers. Transformer technicians and other qualified electricians have been sacked. If there is break down or fault, there is hadly anybody to send to effect the repair. It is obvious that those who carried out the mass sack, do not understand the sector. Even before the privatization, the sector was under-staffed to the extent thatnwe had over 15,000 casual workers. The sooner the new owners and government jointly take a second look on the mass sack, do a competence auditing and recall valuable hands indiscriminately sacked, the better for the industry. As it is today, the consumers are bearing the brunt of erratic power supply.”

Recall thatnthe National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) petitioned the Federal Government through the Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo, over alleged sacked of almost all the union officials in the sector and casualisation of jobs in the electricity, urging authorities concerned to reverse the perceived anti-labour policy or risked industrial action without notice.

In the petition by the union’s General Secretary, Comrade Joseph Ajaero, the union said “We write to bring to your notice the deliberate act of victimization carried out by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) allegedly acting on behalf of the Federal Government Available records, has it that almost all serving Union
Officials have been ‘weeded’ from service. This “weeding” which cut across our various organs: Central Executive Council, State Councils and Chapters to state the least is a clear contravention of all known labour legislations and agreement previously entered into in the sector.”

“What is playing out may not be in the best interest of the Power Sector and Electric Power development of the Nation as it is quite sordid to think of a new brand of Labour issue creeping in at this transitional test period of Investors takeover. Without mincing words, we ask for the reversal of this trend or we would be forced to react without further notice. Besides, we wish to remind you that there are outstanding issues which we hope by 15th November, 2013 should have been sorted out.”

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