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Nationwide blackout on Nov.1 as PHCN workers threaten strike over unpaid severance benefits

By The Citizen
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The National Union of Electrical Employees have threatened to go on strike on November 1 over the non-payment of severance benefits to about 55 per cent of its members by Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

The PHCN workers also vowed that there would be blackout across the country if the issue was not resolved by the Federal Government within four days.

About 2,000 workers of the Union staged a protest at the Eko and Ikeja Electricity Distribution Companies on Monday in Lagos over the delay in the payment of their severance benefits.

The workers, who locked the gates to the distribution companies and prevented people from entering the premises, lamented that most banks had refused to give financial backing to the schedule sent to them by the Federal Government, hence the delay in the payment of the benefits to the majority of them.

The Chairman, Lagos Chapter, NUEE, Mr. Adeleke Ibrahim, who led the protest, said, 'The reports reaching the union is that majority of the banks cannot give financial backing to the schedule sent to them by the Federal Government. This means that the government does not have money.'

Ibrahim said if the entitlements were not paid by the end of October, the entire workforce of PHCN in all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory would embark on an indefinite strike.

According to him, the union is not against privatisation of the company, 'but government should pay all workers' entitlements before the new owners commence operation.'

He, therefore, appealed to the government to ensure that all the agreements it signed with the workers were met in order to avert the strike.

Ibrahim said some of the issues in contention included non-payment of retirement savings to the Pension Fund Administrators and non-remittance of dues of two per cent deducted from workers' salaries to the unions.

Others are non-payment of benefits of retirees who disengaged in 2011 and non-regularisation of the services of some casual workers.

The Federal Government had on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, said it had paid the severance benefits of over 70 per cent of the workers of the PHCN as it worked towards concluding the privatisation of the power sector.

'As of today, we have paid off the benefits of at least 70 per cent of the workers. And as we finish the severance payment this week or next week, the next part will be the pension for the workers,' the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, had said.

However, the NUEE in a statement in September, protested the planned handover of the power assets to the new owners because of the protracted labour issues that had yet to be resolved.

The union said in a statement signed by its General Secretary, Mr. Joe Ajaero, 'Because of the Independence Day ceremonies, we will be patient to allow for full celebrations. However, we hereby urge Nigerians to bear with us if after October 2, 2013 the government goes ahead with her illicit handover to the investors in a forceful takeover; the implication will be that the workers would have technically been asked to withdraw their services and we may not be able to guarantee smooth operations.

'Consequently, if after October 2, 2013, the office of the vice-president fails to correct this misleading information, we shall not guarantee supply of electricity in the country. This is not a threat as our earlier ultimatum has expired.'

While the union continued to engage the government and other stakeholders over the labour issues, President Goodluck Jonathan emphasised that the issues, especially the payment of workers' entitlements, would not stop the Federal Government from physically handing over the privatised power generation and distribution companies to the private investors soon.

The President said at the inauguration of the 500-megawatts Omotosho II power plant in Ondo State last week, that there was no need for any industrial action by the workers of the PHCN.

He promised that all labour issues would be resolved and that all the entitlements would be paid.