By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
BUT for the last-minute agreement between the Federal Government and the organised labour in the power industry over pending labour issues especially payment of terminal benefits to workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, the nation would have been in total darkness today.
Ahead of the hand-over, the organized labour, under the umbrella of National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, had directed workers to withdraw their services from any unit(s) in the event of further provocation by armed military personnel desperate to take over PHCN installations to avoid confrontations from 1 November, 2013.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that security reports indicated dire consequences should the workers be allowed to shut-down the sector.
In fact, it was gathered that some military apologists in the presidency had advised full military deployment to PHCN facilities to keep the workers off and ensure a smooth hand-over.
However, industrial relations experts in government were said to have advised against militarilisation of industrial relations matter with labour in the power sector especially at this critical time, warning that it would worsen the situation as workers could embark on sit-at-home action leaving the facilities un-attended to, which could damage the system.
Sources in the Presidency revealed that wise counsel prevailed and government opted for negotiation.
At the meeting held, Thursday night, it was agreed that payment of severance benefits to workers would be concluded on or before November ending and no worker would be retrenched without full payment of his or her terminal benefit.
One of the labour leaders at the meeting told Sunday Vanguard on the condition of anonymity: “We have reached an agreement with the Federal Government on the outstanding issues pending over the handover of PHCN assets to investors. It was agreed that payment of terminal benefits including pensions will be concluded on or before November 30. It was also agreed that that no worker will exit until her or his severance benefit is fully paid. Following that, we have directed workers to continue with their normal duties until there is a contrary directive.”
On Wednesday, NUEE had, in a statement by its General Secretary, Comrade Joseph Ajaero, said: “We are worried over the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) desperate moves to physically handover PHCN facilities to the investors without conclusively resolving labour and labour related issues. This plan negates the agreement we had with government/BPE that all the issues would be resolved before physical handover.
“For clarity, the gratuity payments have only about 68% made while no member of staff has received a dime of the position funds savings into his/her Retirement Savings Account (RSA) as at today. Those that retired from service since 2011 have not received their benefits totalling about N19 billion. The differences of the short fall of the Terminal Benefits from June 30, 2012 till date have not been considered for payment. The biometrically captured and considered casuals’ appointment has not been addressed. The question of 10% equity shareholding by the workers as statutorily provided has not been given attention.
“Part of the agreement which stipulates that “A training and Counselling programme shall be organized for workers before disengagement in order to enlighten them on business and investment opportunities in line with international best practice” has been flagrantly violated by government, while less than 50% of union deductions have been remitted. In the midst of all these outstanding issues, it is unfair and unthinkable for the BPE to insist on the 1st Nov. 2013 physical handover.”
“While we appreciate and sympathize with the core investors, we ask for their understanding and those of the Nigerian public in our pursuit to ensure a seamless transition. We are resolute on receiving every kobo owed us as we are sure such liabilities will not be borne by the new investors unless there is commitment to that effect from them.
By this statement, we urge all workers of PHCN to withdraw their services from any unit(s) in the event of further provocation by armed military personnel desperate to take over PHCN installations. This is to avoid confrontations with these ‘troops’ from 1st of November, 2013.”