By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
ON Wednesday, August 29, the meeting between the Federal Government led by Chief Anyim Pius Anyim and organized labour to resolve in the pending labour issues ahead of the planned privatization of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, ended in a deadlock. Besides that, no date has been fixed for the resumption of negotiation.
In a chat with Pension and You, the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Comrade Joe Ajaero, did not only give insight into why agreement could not be reached, but claimed the Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, revealed during the meeting that the National Pension Commission, PenCom, once wrote to the then Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute the PHCN management for not complying with Pension Reform Act, PRA, of 2004..
Why the meeting deadlocked
Nothing serious came out of the meeting, although we were trying to close in on only one issue throughout that day which we could not conclude. Government came closer to accepting 25 percent, but said they would calculate it based on three items which according to them is based on the new pension act which, according to them, says you must calculate pension on basic, transport and rent.
But in our condition of service, it is based on rent, basic, transport, meal subsidy, domestic servant allowance and entertainment allowance. What that now portends is that the whole essence and those that articulated the new pension act, was to reduce what workers were getting as pension especially in some sector. So, we are still discussing on that.
However, another revelation that came out of that negotiation was the fact that Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE, came up with a report that PHCN management met severally with National Pension Commission, PenCom on the need for them to have a closed pension policy, and that when PHCN management was not complying, PenCom wrote to the Attorney General of Federation to prosecute PHCN. So, as we talk government owns PHCN, PenCom is a government agency and Attorney General, the highest law officer in the country, none of them took any action assuming they were in the right course.
Now, they are saying it is the workers that will suffer the consequences,whereas the act in all its provisions emphasizes that if there is any punishment, it should go to the employer. What we are seeing today is the inaction of the Attorney General, if it is true that PenCom wrote him and the inaction of PHCN and they are trying to shift it to the workers. We have not seen where the workers went wrong.
We almost shifted position
Those of us from the union side, including the labour centres said we would consent to that with gratuity. But when government said that the act has abolished gratuity, we withdrew whatever concession we were about to make.
We were ready to shift from where we were to make concession, to remove three items which would drastically reduce the amount involved. But that issue of gratuity which they said they were not going to pay, is not negotiable to us. Based on that, we went back to where we were because we cannot be discussing for somebody to tell us that he would not pay gratuity.
It is clear that the new pension act did not address the issue of gratuity, and if it does, what is at stake is that we have not migrated to the new pension scheme as at today which everybody agreed to. If we have not migrated to the new scheme, why then must you retire us based on the new scheme?
If people who retired up till June, retired based on the existing scheme, why will you now shift the goal post? It says that the employers that wish to continue are free to continue. But PenCom is now saying that it has not given license. So what does it take the commission to give license?
Did it say that until the commission gives license whatever is being operated is illegal? So those are some of the issues were trying to tidy up. In all intents and purposes, they have not been driving it well.
What they are battling with is the quantum of naira which they feel they should pay. There are various organizations; the airports authority, and other agencies that are still operating theirs. The act did not say that the existing should be abolished and even if they are to abolish that of PHCN, the Trust Deed of the superannuation fund, says that the directors must meet to discontinue it. You can’t migrate and have too schemes at the same time. On the other hand, the existing scheme must be abolished by the directors before adopting a new scheme. As we talk today, the scheme has not been abolished.
Anyim still consulting
To be frank with you, Chief Anyim is consulting extensively. He is even consulting some of us on the way of the logjam. Let me quote him, he said that he does not want a situation whereby we meet every day, and announce to Nigerians deadlock, that we have to consult extensively, and see whether we can reach some level of understanding before we meet for the purpose of signing agreement. To that extent, he has been coming up with some scenario, and we have been talking. But the main problem is this issue of no funds.
If you say no fund, we cannot go far. If there are funds, and people have made concessions in some areas, and we run into billions, we can move forward from there. But if there are no funds, no matter the scenario and government has a ceiling, say N200billion, and the whole amount, pension and gratuity is about N500billion. What do you do about it? You cannot because government says they cannot afford more than N200billion, you now say what is involved is not involved, that has been our argument.
Let us know what is actually involved. If we want to look at how we can write it off, how to pay, whether people are going to take shares or things like that, we can think extensively. This is not the first time union and management are meeting for management to plead inability to pay and union meets with them to find out the way out.
But this one government has not agreed that it owes this much, that is the problem.