BusinessDay

Power blackout looms as labour threatens to shut sector

The poor power supply being experienced in Nigeria may get even as organised labour under the aegis of National Union of Electricity Employees, (NUEE) has threatened a nationwide industrial action over pending labour issues.
The union has issued a 21-day ultimatum to the Federal Government, Distribution Companies of Nigeria (DISCOs)and Generation Companies of Nigeria (GENCOs) to address its demands or face strike.
Among the contentious issues are unpaid benefits to over 2000 disengaged staff of the defunct Power Holding Company (PHCN) since 2013; underpayment of over 50,000 ex-PHCN staff; refusal of some DISCOs to remit deducted contributory pension fund to workers’ Pension Fund Administrators, (PFAs), payment of half salaries to workers by DISCOs and alleged unfair labour practices in the power sector.
The union a petition to the minister of power on November 7, 2019, warned that it would declare a nationwide industrial unrest, if the demands were not met.
However,  sources within DISCOs and GENCOs say only the Bureau of Public Entreprises, BPE, could react to such issue.
Joe Ajaero, the general  secretary of NUEE,  in the petition said the union had warned before the privatisation of PHCN in 2013 that the exercise was not thorough.
“The following issues cutting across all facets of the sector are hereby highlighted for your information and necessary action. The problems created by Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, are BPE’s refusal to address and pay up over 2,000 disengaged Ex-PHCN staff since 2013.
”There was also illegal transfer of union properties to investors, especially in the GENCOS. i.e. schools built by the unions; deliberate refusal to differentiate between core and non-core assets in accordance with the Electricity Power Sector Reform, EPSRA, Act, 2005; and underpayment of over 50,000 Ex-PHCN staff.
“Those created by the GENCOS are that since taking over in November, 2013, 99 percent of all Generation Companies (GENCOS) nationwide have refused to sign conditions of service with workers, thus portraying them as ‘slave masters’ without conditions of work and rules of engagement.
The union in the petition also complained against mass de-unionisation of members with threat to loss of jobs to intending members; refusal/lock out of the union from all their premises; pilfering of union dues, especially in Egbin Power Plc; and denial of union rights to staff.
“The problems created by the DISCOS include refusal by some DISCOS to remit staff contributory pension to the Pension Fund Administrators, PFA; denial of retirement benefits to exited staff; casualization/outsourcing of workers and half salaries.
The workers also noted  in the petition that its members under the DISCOs were being paid half salaries on the 45th day because of intimidation by Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, NBET, Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, (NERC) that insist on first line charge (against Universal Labour Practice, International Conventions and Nigeria Labour Laws) to regulatory agencies.
“It is very painful and unfortunate that six years down the line after the take-over, no significant salary increase has taken place in the industry. Several efforts have been made to address the issues with the various stakeholders mentioned above to no avail.
”Rather, they have continued to thrive on the suffering of the down trodden workers in the electricity sector. As a responsible and patriotic stakeholder in the sector, it is our considered opinion that your office is inundated with these developments (for redress) which have been on for about six years.
Decrying that letters to the office minister have not been acknowledged, the union in the petition said that the consequence of not acting on their demands was the strike noticed given.
He said the if the issues are not addressed within 21 days, the union will proceed on nationwide  strike that may plung the country into darkness.
Joshua Bassey