February 7, 2016

Hike in electricity tariff: Workers reject planned picketing of DISCOs, GENCOs

Fashola, electric meter

By Victor Ahiuma-Young

AHEAD of tomorrow’s planned protest, electricity workers have kicked against the plan to picket the Distribution Companies, DISCOs, and Generation Companies, GENCOs, by leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, alongside civil society allies over the hike in electricity tariff, arguing that the action is misdirected.

Speaking on the platform of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, the workers said while they opposed the hike and support action against it, such action should be targeted at the Federal Government and its agencies such as the Ministry of Power and the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC.

The union, in a statement by its General Secretary, Mr. Joe Ajaero, recalled that when NUEE was fighting the privatization of the assets of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, many Nigerians misunderstood the electricity workers and were mischievously accused of trying to protect inefficiency and some other self-seeking allegations, despite their efforts at educating Nigerians on the impending evil.

“We believe that, as a responsible trade union whose members work in the Power Sector; and thus, are also affected by this mindless increase, we must state that the DISCOs and GENCOs are not the sole beneficiaries of that decision. If any organisation should bear the brunt of our attacks, it must be the Federal Government and its ministries and agencies within the sector, especially NERC and the Federal Ministry of Power. We believe that it is our civic responsibility and duty to educate those championing the picketing exercise to be properly directed on the targets of their picketing effort. Let it be clear that NUEE supports every effort to resist the increase in electricity tariff and other anti-people policies of the government but we will advise our compatriots to be target specific so that we may not be accused of fighting the wrong parties in this case. Few days ago, the Minister also counselled the National Assembly members that they cannot force the power companies not to increase tariff because these companies do not have the power to do so,” the NECC said.

In the meantime, industry experts, at the weekend, expressed concern that the call by the organized labour to shut down the DISCOs and GENCOs would impact negatively on the power sector and the nation’s economy.

According to the experts , the planned disruption of the operations may have more severe consequences than the new tariff, aimed at ensuring cost recovery in the power sector value chain, removal of the fixed charge , encouraging power conservation by focusing on metering before billing and insisting that consumers are billed for only what they consume.

Some of the experts argued that any disruption at this time would negatively affect the steady progress being made in the sector in spite of challenges posed by gas pipeline vandalism and other acts of sabotage  recorded in the petroleum and power sector.

Legal practitioners, who spoke with our correspondents, expressed the view that the subject of change in tariff was not a matter for labour agitation. According to them, the statutory objective of a trade union recognised under the Trade Unions Act is to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers. ‘’Price determination is a product of market forces. Electricity is like any other product and its price reflects its cost of production’’, one of the lawyers said.