Nationwide Outage: Why electricity workers went on strike — Official

High tension electric powerlines
High tension electric powerlines

The National Union of Electricity Employees has explained why its members embarked on a one-day strike that threw Nigeria into a blackout on Wednesday.

The union said at the centre of its dispute with the federal government are non-payment of the entitlement of workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) who were laid off when the company was privatised, short-payment and the condition of service for workers of electricity companies.

The general secretary of the union, Joe Ajaero, said the strike was because of these unresolved issues.

In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he said since the privatisation of the PHCN in 2013, over 2000 workers who were laid off are yet to be paid their entitlements.

He also said the workers in the sector were short-paid for over 16 months.

“And we have taken this matter up with the BPE (Bureau of Public Enterprises) since the past six years. On two or three occasions we have had cause to lock up the office of the BPE and they will tell us that they have cleared up some names waiting for the Accountant-General of the Federation to pay, but up to this moment nothing,” he said.

He also lamented the condition of service of workers in the sector, saying the union had taken the issue to the ministries of Labour and Power and other agencies of government.

“The Ministry of Labour called some of them to go do the needful, two and three years after they didn’t obey.

“Some of the employers have decided to disobey the instructions of the ministry”.

Recently, the federal government inaugurated an ad-hoc committee to review the status and ownership structure of the power distribution companies. The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, is the chairman of the committee.

But Mr. Ajaero said there is a limit to what the committee can do.

He said one of the contentious issues is that of school for the children of workers of the generating company.

“Because of the nature of the generating company, where they were sited were excluded from where people were living and the union decided to build schools for the kids of our members in such areas. The documents are there, about four schools were built and being run between the union and the management of NEPA,” he said.

Mr Ajaero said the Power Sector Reform Act provides that power stations be handed over to some investors but not the primary schools, which he said they seized.

“By virtue of the Act, even if there are buildings, it is the Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Company that will take them, not the GenCos”.

Truce

Mr Ajaero said government agencies had intervened in the matter, but stressed that the union would not hesitate to go back on strike if their demands are not met.

He said the BPE took the Accountant-General issue up. Also, he said something will be done on the salaries of the power sector workers who do not get paid on time, unlike their counterparts at NBET who get their “large” salaries paid on time.

He also said the government has agreed to take the issue of pension deduction up.

“It’s a criminal offence to behave in that way,” the union leader said.

He said the federal government has agreed to remit all the pension deductions.


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