Tension mounts over breach of agreement with workers

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By Victor AHIUMA-YOUNG

TENSION is mounting in the Nigeria’s power sector over the breach of the latest agreement reached between the Federal Government and organisedlabour on the unpaid benefits of the staff of defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.

This came as a report of the committee jointly set by the government and labour, to monitor the level of payment of terminal and other benefits to the PHCN staff, confirmed labour allegations that most of the workers have not been paid.

Following the threat by the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, to shut down the power sector over non-payment of benefits to workers as agreed, victimisation of union leaders contrary to agreement reached among other breaches, the Federal Government through the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, summoned a meeting on January 13, 2014, where government and labour reached an agreement.

A Cross section of Workers Match Pasts, during the 2013 Workers Day Commemoration by The Lagos state Council of Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, Theme: 100 Year of Nationhood, The Challenges of National Development, held at Onikan Stadium, Lagos. Photo: Bunmi Azeez

File Photo: Nigeria Labour Congress by Bunmi Azeez

At the end of the meeting it was agreed among others that “bonafide staff are to be paid their severance benefits on or before the end of January2014, admitted casuals to be paid on/before end of March, 2014; progressive payments to be tracked and all pensions should be processed and payments should be effected accordingly. Furthermore, the 7.5% employer pension contributions of July, 2012 to 31st October, 2013, will be paid by the Federal Government (market operator). Payment of pension deductions from 1st November, 2013 to date will be paid by the new operators into workers’ Retirement Savings Account, RSA, accounts.

“Bureau for Public Enterprise, BPE, and Ministry of Power are to, fast-track approval and payment of death benefits to beneficiaries within one month. The complaint of victimisation of labour leaders to be handled by the Federal Ministry of Power and BPE in accordance with extant regulations within January, 2014.Workers who are being owed salary arrears and have not been severed, will be paid by the Federal Government and should stay in position until they are paid.”

“The allegation of non-payment of entitlement to staff covering July, 2012 should be referred back to the implementation committee for conclusion within January 2014. The implementation committee should set up a verification sub-committee to establish payment of certain entitlements listed in agreement of October 2013, and identify those stations that have paid and those that have not paid. BPE should submit the list of the 483 un-cleared RSA holders to the Technical sub-committee for rectification.”

NUEE says no one has been paid

However, at the time of this report, the General Secretary of NUEE, Mr. Joe Ajaero, lamented that the content of the agreement was only honoured in breach, saying it was already creating restiveness in the sector.

According to him, “Regrettably, since the January 2014 agreement, nobody has been paid a kobo. The only thing that has happened is that the committee that went round the country to monitor and verify payment, has concluded its assignment and confirmed our position that most of the workers have not been paid their benefits.

In fact, the members of the committee including BPE were able to confirm that the so-called payment that government officials had been brandishing was only on paper. What they were doing was to sit in the offices and claim that payment has been made. In everywhere that the committee went to, members were not able to see a state where everybody has been paid.

“To worsen the situation, it was also discovered that many people were underpaid in Enugu, Oyo, Yola and others. As we speak, many have their Pension Fund Administrators, PFAs, not credited with a kobo. Even those that would have been paid at the last days of February, we were told that the Director General of BPE was not around to approve the payment.

“There is tension everywhere in the industry. The agreement said until people are fully paid, they would not be sacked. Yet, the BPE went ahead to sack them. It is getting to a level where the bubble will burst. Over 1000 labour leaders that were victimised by the BPE and the new owners, as we speak, have not been recalled.

It is universal standard that you do not victimize labour leaders over union activities and we had an agreement to that effect, yet over 1000 of them have been sacked for being union members. All efforts to get their re-instatement, so far have been rebuffed. We have been keeping quiet and exercising   patience. But very soon our patience will cease and we will take our destinies in our hands.”

Recall that the pending issues as contained in a petition to Minister of Power on December 20, 2013 said “We are constrained to write your office on the flagrant abuse of human and Trade Union rights in the power sector and the criminal silence by those that should have checked these abuses. All the collective agreements entered into by the Union with Government in the power sector have all been violated. As we write, over ten thousand (10,000) workers in the power sector have not been paid a dime as their severance entitlement.

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