NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar
By Aisha Wakaso and Linda Eroke
Members of staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in Minna Thursday shut down the Shiroro Dam in Niger State, accusing the Federal Government of insincerity in its dealings, non-payment of their retirement benefits and not honouring the conditions of service of the staff of the company.
The move came as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday issued a one-week ultimatum to the Federal Government to withdraw soldiers from PHCN installations and commence negotiations with the unions on outstanding labour issues.
The NLC stated if the government failed, it would mobilise all its affiliates for a nationwide strike.
According to Mohammed Nagwa, chairman of the National union of Electricity Employee (NUEE) Shiroro Power Station chapter while protesting with other staff at the gate of the station, said they are not happy with the way the Federal Government is sending them away without proper benefits.
Nagwa said they were not against the privatisation programme of the government and are also willing to leave if only their retirement benefits are paid.
“They are asking us to go; we are ready to go if our entitlements are paid. Government should honour the agreement to pay our full benefits. You cannot send people away by force, it is not done anywhere. We do not have guns, we only want the world to know that we are being intimidated and cheated.”
Nagwa said they want the government to honour the conditions of employment which states that when they retire or are laid off, their full retirement benefits would be paid, stressing that the introduction of PENCOM was not welcome by the staff as they want to continue with the old pension scheme they had before, adding that PENCOM is fraud.
The NLC said to prosecute the strike, its National Executive Council (NEC), the highest organ of the labour body, has directed that strike committees be set up immediately across the country.
Rising from its NEC meeting held Wednesday night in Benin City, Edo State, the congress condemned the military takeover of the corporate headquarters of the PHCN, over an industrial relations issue.
NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar, who addressed journalists shortly after the meeting, described “the current gun-point deductions directed by the Ministry of Power” as illegal, arguing that the new Pension Act 2004 provides for workers to open account with any Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) of their choice and submit same to their employer for remittance.
Omar maintained that there can not be retroactive pension contribution, stressing that if the PHCN management intends to migrate to the new pension policy, it should go into an agreement with the unions on the commencement date to start the contribution.
He said the strike notice became necessary in view of the manner in which the ongoing privatisation of the PHCN was degenerating into, arguing that a situation where the power ministry is forcing workers to sign documents at gun-point would not be tolerated by labour.
“NEC calls on the Federal Government to within the next one week, withdraw the soldiers from PHCN installations and commence negotiations with the unions on outstanding labour issues.
“Congress reiterates its earlier position that the new Pension Act did not abolish gratuity and that the 25 per cent contributions by the workers should be paid up to date.
“Congress warns that if by the end of one week, government and management of PHCN refuse to commence negotiations with the unions, congress and its allies may be forced to commence a nationwide industrial action in support of the unions,” Omar said.
On the security situation in the country, the NLC president expressed concern over government’s continuous display of incapacity to confront these problems headlong stating that this has eroded the confidence of the citizenry in the ability of their government to protect them.
He called on government to do more to secure the lives and property of its citizens and quickly find solutions to end the spate of insecurity across the country.
As part of labour’s contribution towards ensuring continued peaceful co-existence of all Nigerians, Omar disclosed that the NLC will organise a peace rally and summit entitled “Labour for Unity, Peace and Good Governance” on September 13, 2012 in Abuja.
“In spite of the measures taken by the government, the security situation in the country continues to deteriorate. Kidnappings, assassinations, resurgence of armed robberies, bombings, communal and sectarian violence have led to painful loss of lives, massive displacements, injurious interruption of productive activities with prospect of acute food shortages, destruction of properties (in excess of billions of Naira) and capital flight.
“Convinced that Nigeria’s existence as one indivisible entity is inviolable, irrevocable and inalienable, the Nigeria Labour Congress, as part of its contribution to ensuring the continued peaceful co-existence of our people, has decided to organise in the second week of September in Abuja, a peace rally and summit entitled, “Labour for Unity, Peace and Good Governance,” Omar added.