Protests as power firms sack ‘unproductive’ workers

PHCN workers30 April 2014, Abuja – Thousands of power sector workers face a bleak feature from today (Wednesday) following the expiration of the six-month contract employment given to them by the new investors in the electricity and distribution companies.

The investors have insisted that unproductive workers inherited from the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria by the successor firms will be thrown out of the system from today.

Many of the investors, who chose to speak under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said it was imperative for them to evaluate their human capital assets in order to identify the right competence and skill sets needed to ensure efficient service delivery to their customers.

As such, they insisted that unproductive workers would be disengaged on April 30, six months after they were contractually required by the Federal Government through the Bureau of Public Enterprises to retain them to run the power system.

But the workers, through the labour unions in the sector, are unhappy with the way the new owners of the electricity distribution and generation companies have allegedly handled them.

Led by the unions’ executives, the workers on Monday began protests in some locations across the country against alleged anti-labour practices adopted by the new investors.

On Tuesday, officials of the National Union of Electricity Employees, Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies, Trade Union Congress and the Nigeria Labour Congress led the workers to picket some of the power firms.

One of our correspondents gathered that they picketed the power firm in Jos, Benin and Abuja, while those in Akure, the Ondo State capital, actually started the protests on Monday.

Addressing the protesting workers at the office of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company in Akure on Monday, the Chairman, Ondo State chapter, NEWU, Mr. Samson Adeladun, said the workers were protesting against the manner in which they were being handled as well as fixed charges adopted by the various electricity distribution companies across the country, describing the development as exploitative.

According to him, the fixed charges being collected by the companies are an attempt to rob the masses since the fees are collected whether there is power supply or not.

“The issue of fixed charges being levied on the people of this country by the various electricity distribution companies is a way to rob the people, whether they supply them power or not; so, we are saying such fees should be abolished,” Adeladun said.

He said the other issue was the non-payment of terminal dues to workers laid off after the sale of the PHCN’s successor companies in breach of the agreement reached between the companies and the government.

However, officials of the BEDC were unavailable for comments, as the offices were locked up as a result of the protest.

The President-General, SSAEAC, Mr. Bede Opara, told one of our correspondents that most of the power firms were promoting anti-labour activities.

He said the development might further worsen the already bad power supply situation in the country if not corrected.

Opara said, “There are a number of agitations going on. So, the TUC and the NLC are in agreement with the picketing of these companies.

“The one in Jos was done by the NUEE and the NLC alone. But that of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, in particular, and all other places down South were done by the TUC, NLC, SSAEAC and NUEE.

“In other words, the in-house unions in the electricity sector and their parent labour centres came together to picket these firms. This is not good for the sector and it is one of the contributing factors to poor supply of electricity in the country.”

A senior labour union official in Abuja told one of our correspondents that all had not been well in the sector since the private investors took over the power firms in November last year.

The official, who pleaded not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the subject, said, “Most power firms have problems with their respective labour unions and this is not good for the industry. We hope things will improve soon.”

The PUNCH had last week exclusively reported the looming strike in the power firms over the sacking of workers.

The Federal Government had on November 1, 2013 handed over to private investors 11 electricity distribution and four generation companies carved out of the defunct PHCN.

The PUNCH reported that many of the investors had carried out different forms of evaluation, after which the names of old and redundant workers were pencilled down for disengagement.

According to checks by our correspondents, many of the workers across the power firms are prepared for the worse today.

The entrance to the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, which was visited by one of our correspondents on Tuesday, has been remodelled and workers will need access cards to enter the building once activated today.

Some of the workers said they foresaw a situation whereby those who would be retained after April 30 would get new identity cards, without which they would not be able to access the building because of the new access technology that had been deployed.

The Secretary General, NUEE, Mr. Joe Ajaero, had vowed that the union would resist any attempt by the new investors to sack the workers.

If the new investors were looking for excuses for non-performance since they took over, they should not put it on the workers, he said.

The investors, in a position paper made available to one of our correspondents on Sunday, however, wondered why the union, which had earlier collected N8bn from the Federal Government as a condition for allowing last year’s sacking of the PHCN workers, was resisting attempts by the new owners to cut jobs.

They said, “The disengaged PHCN members of staff, it should be recalled, were also paid a huge amount of N380bn with some collecting as much as N100m and junior workers collecting about N6m each.”

The investors said the six-month contract employment period was for them to assess the workers’ performance and to assist in disengaging non-productive employees.

They stated in the document, “It should be noted that for consumers to have improved electricity supply, the new owners that have borrowed billions of naira to purchase these power assets have to be efficient in both their human and material resources.

“If the labour does not allow the new investors to right-size and inject new blood, the consumers will be worse off as the old order where inefficiency and waste thrived will continue.”

They explained that the employees, who were disengaged in 2013, could still get jobs in other establishments where they could continue to work and earn another pension.


– The Punch

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