POWER SECTOR REFORM: PHCN WORKERS SHIFT BATTLE TO NEW TURF
Despite efforts of the Federal Government, labour unions and stakeholders to resolve the ongoing imbroglio in the power sector, controversy has continued to dog the various moves.
The main sticky point in the crises between the workers of Power Holding Company of Nigerian (PHCN) and Federal Government has been the leaders of the workers insistence on 25 per cent severance package for its members.
While government says it cannot afford such an amount based on certain indices, the labour unions will stop at nothing to get the government to accede to their demands irrespective of whether their action will affect the proposed privatisation plan or not.
Nigerians who are sad over the development at the moment are not interested on whether government can afford the money demanded by the PHCN workers or not; their concern is to have uninterrupted power supply like other countries of the world.
Minister of Power, Barth Nnaji, said the plan of government was to ensure stable power supply even as he lamented that the ongoing controversy between the leaders of PHCN workers and government could hinder its realisation.
Nnaji further appealed to the workers to allow ongoing reforms in the power sector to achieve the desired results for Nigerians to enjoy power supply which, he said, had improved compared to what obtained some months ago.
The minister explained that workers of the company were not aware of what is happening, saying the unions, National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and senior staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC), need to be abreast of the real happening in the sector.
He went on to say that federal government was ready to dialogue with them and resolve the issue to allow for ongoing plans to continue. He also said the privatisation would better the working condition of the workers of PHCN.
'We expected Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) to guide its affiliate since government is ready to talk with them'.
President of SSEAC Bede Opara told LEADERSHIP that their workers have the true picture of what is happening and that they (the leadership) are just the representatives.
He said, 'We are insisting on what belongs to us and no man will allow rat to eat what belongs to him. Federal Government with the two labour centres, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), and the representatives of PHCN workers will have a meeting to dialogue further on the matter because government is planning to set up a high-powered panel to look into the issues.'
When asked if the ongoing rift will affect the proposed plan of federal government to provide stable power, Bede said it would.
'Naturally, when two elephant fight, the grass suffers but by the time we settle the issues, we will all have cause to rejoice,' he noted.
Opara said the workers in PHCN had not started their planned strike, but will have no option than to take that road if the meeting called by Federal Government fails to address labour issues before the privatisation of the company.
The labour leader also declared that workers have been waiting to receive directives from the two labour centres, the NLC and NUC, should the Government want to take over PHCN without addressing labour issues,.
He stressed that, from experience, new management of companies privitiased by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) will always tell workers that they cannot carry the burden of past management of the company newly acquired.
'We, as responsible labour leaders, are open to dialogue on the labour issues in contention, and thus we gave the government the opportunity to withdraw the army from PHCN installations and conclude negotiate with us on outstanding issues,' he added.
As a result of this face-off, he said, the NUEE has called for the immediate resignation of the Prof Barth Nnaji as Power Minister.
He accused him of fraudulent activities in the power sector and lambasted him for unnecessarily putting Nigerians under tension with his carefully planned doses of misinformation.
NUEE 's General Secretary, Comrade Joe Ajaero aligned with the former when he said: 'We call for Professor Nnaji's resignation for his employment of 20 people in Enugu Zone of PHCN who are his kit and kin as staff two years after the closing date of casual employment and close of PHCN biometrics exercise, as well as his refusal to pay regularised casual staff their salaries since February 2012.'
Meanwhile, Nigerians have begun to react on the proposed strike by PHCN. A group operating under the aegis of the Congress of South West Youths (COSWY) said that the insincerity of President Jonathan administration on the severance payment of the PHCN workers in the light of the ongoing full privatisation of the company may throw the country into a total blackout if the workers go ahead with their proposed industrial ction.
The group also noted that if the PHCN workers eventually embarked on the proposed strike, the development would be very devastating and demeaning to the image of Nigeria in the comity of nations.
COSWY President and the Director of Mobilisation, Taiwo Ayedun and Mohammed Elegbede, pointed out that the far reaching implications of the imminent strike will be total breakdown of industrial and commercial activities while the nation is bound to lose billions of naira over the failure of the government to address issues raised by the workers promptly and sincerely.
While condemning the recent hike in electricity tariff by the PHCN, the group insisted that the 'astronomical increase' in the electricity bill is not only exploitative but one that smacks of the intent to extort money from the masses without any effective and efficient service to show for it.
They argued that nothing in the real sense of it has improved about power supply and transmission in Nigeria 'despite the barrage of empty promises being made by Federal Government in this salient area of public governance.'
The minister has in several fora of late announced that the country is had greatly boosted its electricity production capacity to over 4,100MW of electricity, more than double of previous figures.