This Day (Lagos)

29 January 2013

Nigeria: PHCN Workers Threaten Strike Over Unresolved Labour Issues

Employees of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) Monday warned that any attempt by the Federal Government to hand over the company's facilities to private investors without implementing the agreements with labour would result in a breakdown of industrial peace in the sector.

The warning came as organised labour unions in the oil and gas industry have threatened to embark on a three-day warning strike should companies in the Onne Free Trade Zone (FTZ) fail to recall workers sacked for engaging in union activities.

Speaking under the umbrella of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), the workers lamented that government had not made any genuine effort to implement the agreements reached with the unions in the sector.

The statement issued by the union's secretary, Joe Ajearo, warned that, "It will be daring for any investor to thinker the idea of moving into any PHCN facilities to carry out any form of activity as we can neither guarantee industrial peace nor their intent in such work environment, when the agreement which enjoyed joint authorship with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SFG) has not been implemented."

The union emphasised that the private investors were not the employers of PHCN workers and should not be held responsible for the past services of workers in the organisation.

The statement read: "Recent Media reports are awash of statements from very senior government officials stating the intentions of handing over PHCN within two weeks to core investors in the completion of the privatisation process.

"The workers, irked by this statement credited to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, hereby advise all investors not to dare into any PHCN installation(s) in the bid to take over the facilities when the labour issues as agreed have not been implemented. After the agreements were reached by all the parties involved, there seem not to be genuine efforts by the government to implement the issues.

"One then wonders why the rush to handover, maybe by force when the core labour issues that stalled the process in the first instance have not been implemented. We believe the government should be bold enough to ensure full implementation of the agreements before handing over to the core investors.

"For the avoidance of doubt, the so-called investors are not our employers as at today and should not be seen to be responsible for our past services to the organisation. Besides, if the government is truly sincere in her quest to drive this power sector reform project to enviable level of success, more work should be done on ground and not much on the pages of newspapers.

"Any attempt to employ the Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) and Nigeria Airways method in our situation will be stubbornly resisted. Nigerians should hold government officials responsible for any breakdown of industrial peace in the sector resulting from their high-handedness."

Meanwhile, the organised labour unions which spoke under the auspices of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), warned employers to stop the impunity and injustice being meted out to oil and gas workers in the zone.

In a communique issued at the end a meeting of the Joint Action Committee of the two unions in Onne FTZ in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the unions disclosed that the planned industrial action would commence on February 13, noting that the entire South-east and South-south states except Delta and Edo States, would be affected.

It further warned that if no concrete steps were taken to correct the injustice by the employers in the zone at the end of the warning strike, the workers would have no other option than to embark on a nationwide strike that will affect the entire country including but not limited to a total shut down of the oil and gas production.

It noted that the strike was in compliance with an earlier directive by the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of NUPENG and PENGASSAN on November 16, 2012 in Calabar, Cross River State, which gave a three week ultimatum to companies operating in the zone to allow unionisation in compliance with the Nigerian labour laws.

The unions lamented that since the expiration of the ultimatum over two months ago, nothing had been done to address the situation despite intimating all concerned government agencies with the unwholesome anti-labour practices in the zone.

"In trying to organise members in the Onne FTZ, we have lost members to sack, victimisation and humiliation contrary to labour best practices and as guaranteed by Section 40 of the Nigeria Constitution, Nigerian Labour Laws and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions 87 and 90.

"Infact, companies in other areas of the zone which oversees Rivers, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Imo, Enugu, Abia, Anambra and Benue have relocated to the Onne FTZ just to avoid the existence and practice of trade unionism.

"We have reported severally the unfair labour practices going on in the Onne FTZ to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment but despite the lip service advise of the Ministry of Labour to authorities of the FTZ to respect constitutional rights of workers to join trade unions and bargain collectively, these companies in connivance with the authority of the FTZ and their collaborators in government continue to deny Nigerian workers these inalienable constitutional rights," the communiqué added.

The union disclosed that as at August 2011, only five companies of the 123 companies operating in the zone allowed their members to unionise, stressing that the leadership of the unions in the affected companies were sacked over trade union activities

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