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Strike: Power sector workers buckle as labour minister intervenes

Workers in the power sector of the Nigerian economy have shelved an earlier plan to shut down the system in protest against the non-payment of severance package (among other demands) to about 2000 workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) seven years after the company was privatised.

The strike would have again led to the shutting down of the national grid, as a similar action in December 11, 2019, left the entire country in darkness for one day, with huge losses recorded to the national economy.

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Aside the non full payment of the ex-workers of PHCN, the employee union in the power sector has also accused the federal ministry of power as well as the management of Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) of reneging agreement signed with the union in December 2019.

The decision to shelve the strike which would have commenced this week, followed the intervention of minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige. Ngige on Monday met with the leadership of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) in Abuja, and prevailed on them to give the Federal Government sixty days to work around their demands.

The union had on January 29, 2020 issued a 14-day ultimatum to the federal ministry of power to pay more than 2,000 workers that were disengaged from PHCN or risk industrial action from electricity workers.

The union alleged that the ministry failed to implement the agreement arrived at between members of NUEE, the ministry and other government agencies on December 11, 2019.

At the recent conciliatory meeting with NUEE in Abuja, Ngige persuaded the workers to drop their planned strike. After the closed-door meeting which lasted about five hours, the minister said all parties agreed to settle all issues within 60 days.

“We have reviewed the agreement reached in December 2019. We have given ourselves terminal date of 60 days within which to process the remaining persons that have not gotten their severance pay.

“The number is not as what NUEE is saying but at the same time, we expect that payment should be effected latest at the end of 60 days. We are going to reach out to power generating companies and power distribution companies so that the issue of casualisation should not be happening again,” said Ngige.

However, Joe Ajaero, the general secretary of NUEE said that although the union was ready to wait for the 60 days, it was not comfortable with a lengthy period agreed to.

According to him, the issues discussed at the meeting were not new since privatisation, which gave rise to most of those issue was carried out the Federal Government seven years ago.

“We are not too satisfied with the result of the meeting because it is coming rather too late. Privatisation issue took place seven years ago and most of the people involved have died and we are still talking of their entitlements and underpayment.

“We are now looking at another 60 days to address the issue. Do you need ultimatum before people will remit pension deduction or for people who short-paid you for 16 months to remit the amount? He queried.

 

JOSHUA BASSEY

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