14 January 2014, Lagos – Workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) under aegis of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) Monday in Lagos, Osun and Akwa Ibom States protested the non-payment of their entitlements, threatening to shut down operations of all electricity distribution facility in Lagos, which accounted for 60 per cent of the distribution network in the country.
While the Osun State chapter of NUEE, in what it described as “Human and Trade Union Rights Abuses” in the sector, issued a 14-day ultimatum for all the collective agreements entered into by the union with the federal government to be addressed forthwith, her counterparts in Akwa Ibom State were said to have staged a peaceful protest over some anti-labour polices allegedly introduced by the successor companies of PHCN.
Just as the protests were ongoing in the three states, reports indicated that six members of staff of the defunct PHCN in Kwara State, who were disengaged from service in October 2013 were said to have died, while awaiting their retirement savings allowance (RSA).
But the protests came on the heels of an apology tendered by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) to the workers, who have not received their benefits, that it had scheduled a meeting of all the stakeholders for January 16.
Addressing the workers during the protest in Lagos, which paralysed activities at the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, the National Vice-President of NUEE, Mr. Obol Mbang Etukubes, said the workers would not hesitate to shutdown all power installations in the state if their terminal benefits were not paid as mandated.
“Over 5,000 workers, who retired statutorily are yet to be paid their gratuity. The death benefits of over 1,000 people who died in active service are yet to be paid to their families,” he said.
Also speaking, the Lagos State Secretary of the NUEE, Mr. Oluwagbenga Eric, said about 60 per cent workers had not been paid.
“We are not against privatisation but government should pay us our money and allow us to rest in our respective home. It was agreed that workers should be allowed on duty for six months for other new investors engineers to take over in other to understudy us but we are force out in the name of privitasation which is against the labour law,” he said.
Responding to the workers agitation, the Director of Power at the BPE, Mr. Ibrahim Babagana, who, coincidentally was in Lagos during the protest, apologised to the affected workers, attributing this to some errors in computing records.
In the same vein, Chairman of Osun State chapter of NUEE (Osogbo region), Mr. Adedeji Olajire, while announcing the 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Ministry of Power and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity in Abuja, in Osogbo, stated that all the collective agreements entered into by the union with the federal government had been violated with about 10,000 workers yet to be paid their severance entitlements.
Speaking through a statement signed by the National President of NUEE, Mansir Musa and the Secretary, Joe Ajaero, Olajire said about 25,000 workers were yet to receive their pension components, while about 5,000 workers, who retired statutorily were yet to be paid gratuity.
On his part, the Vice-President of the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Company (SSAEAC), Mr. Yisa Gbadebo, who was present at the protest, admonished the federal government to take cognisance of the signed agreement, which took place on October 31, 2013 and abide by the agreement to satisfy the disengaged staffs.
On the death of the six former PHCN staff, the Chairman of Kwara State chapter of NUEE, Mr. Bamidele Okogbe, while fielding questions with journalists in Ilorin, said: “The situation with the disengaged defunct PHCN workers is terrible and it is high time the federal government pay them their entitlement without further delay.”
He said: “The government should also pay those workers, who were yet to received their entitlements so as to bring new lease of life to them.”
Okogbe, who said the union would not relent in its efforts to fight the non-payment of their entitlement, alleged that the federal government was wrong on its claim on the payment of the allowances.
He said while the government claimed it had paid the allowance in full to all the affected workers, only 70 per cent of the workers had received an alert of the payment.
Okogbe added that those who had received the alert were not paid what was totally due them because the payment did not cover the entitlements accrued to the workers from July 2012 till October 2013, when they were disengaged.
Okogbe, however, urged members to get prepared for the next line of action should the government fail to rectify the situation within the 14-day ultimatum it gave the government.
Meanwhile, the electricity workers, who marched along major streets in the Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, requested the federal government to wade into the development for the sake of the sufferings of disengaged workers of the PHCN.
Speaking with journalists, the state chairman of the Electricity Workers’ Union, Mr. Bassey Essien expressed regret that there were some uncomfortable actions taken by the federal government and its agents that were detrimental and infringed on the constitutional rights of the workforce.
Essien disclosed that over 30 regularised casuals of the PHCN, who were in Port Harcourt, Rivers State for the biometric registration towards their severance packages had not been paid, yet they had been disengaged from the company.
“PHCN workers have been disengaged without receiving their entitlements. Some who have filled the form have not been paid their entitlements, that is, gratuity and pensions.
“Some retirees between 2009 and 2010 have not been paid their retirement benefits and some have died, while benefits of members between July 2012, and October 2013 have neither been calculated nor paid. The money had been sent to the business units nationwide but the management have been acting funny with these funds,” Essien lamented.
The Vice-President of NUEE, Easten Zone, Mr. Peter Ekong, said: “The issue of payment of arrears of one year to all employees from June 2012 to July 2013 has been breached by government, rather, the new investors have introduced anti-labour policies where workers have been denied their fundamental human rights.”
– This Day