By Victor Ahiuma-Young
ORGANISED Labour has issued an industrial action notice to Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHEDC, over alleged increasing unfair labour practices including disengagement of over 26 workers without due process.
Labour has accused the management of promoting casualisation of workers and apathy to unionisation contrary to extant Labour laws, International Labour Organisation, ILO, and other standard codes
General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Joe Ajaero, said labour and its allies would soon resume the suspended action against PHEDC, which services Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa states, after officials of the Directorate of State Services, DSS, in Rivers State, earlier in August, allegedly forced the suspension of an industrial action declared against the company.
Ajaero said that labour had already taken the matter up with the Director-General of DSS, warning that should the DSS or any other security agency meddle into issue of industrial relations that did not concern such agency, it would face the wrath of organised labour.
He said: “We are putting the management of PHEDC on notice that we will soon resume an industrial action that will take different shapes. We are not going to give them an exact date. We are going to swoop on the company unannounced. We are already meeting and strategising towards it. As long as the issues are not addressed, PHEDC will continue to suffer. There are two persons or groups that are licensed to play a role in a work place. There is the one that got the licence from Cooperate Affairs Commission, CAC and the other one that got its own from the Registrar of Trade Union, RTU. Both have certificates to operate. So until the issues of unfair labour practices are sorted out in PHEDC, labour will not stop troubling the management. We are prepared for the long journey no matter how long.”
The union had claimed that since the unbundling and privatization of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN Plc, and the zone (comprising of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers states) was taken over by PHEDC it had failed to do the needful to ensure that workers put in their best for better service to consumers.
According to the union, “Some of these included recruitment of more workers to beef up the existing workforce, provision of vehicle to enhance operational activities; provision of materials for replacement of overused and obsolete ones in the electrical network, expansion of network, construction of relief/upgrading of injection substation, and improvement of workers’ welfare. Instead of recruiting more hands into the system, the company has been disengaging the experienced hands from the company on the ground that it cannot afford to pay what staff earned before privatisation. The remaining experienced staff have been given the option of either working for a meagre N40, 000 monthly pay or be disengaged. Recently, the company recruited fresh casual staff and graduates who are paid between N10, 000 and N40, 000 respectively with the aim of replacing the old staff.”
“Since takeover, the company has not procured any operational vehicle for its maintenance activities. The old and worn-out vehicles seen on the road are those both by PHCN. On several occasions, the same customers who pay for their electricity consumption are those contributing money for faulty clearance and replacement of packed equipment in their areas
The few switching stations around town were built by NEPA/PHCN and the state government. The company has bluntly refused to improve workers welfare. The workers have had all their entitlements reduced drastically from basic salaries and are being threatened with sack at every meeting held. Even some of those sacked are not paid off.”