The long awaited report of the negotiations between the Federal Government and the three unions in the power sector has recommended that the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) Conditions of Service regarding the payment of gratuity to employees should apply ahead of privatisation of the public corporation.
The disagreement over the modalities for the payment of pensions and gratuity has been the root of the current tussle between the federal government and workers of PHCN.
The position of government is that workers are entitled to pension and gratuity up to June 30, 2004 but thereafter the provisions of Pensions Reform Act 2004 would apply. The unions, on the other hand, had argued that gratuity should be paid in accordance with the extant PHCN Conditions of Service. They asserted that contrary to the views of government, the pension Act was not against the payment of gratuity.
However, the Chief Negotiator/Conciliator, Hassan Sumonu, in a report submitted to government urged the authorities to reconsider the union’s demands given the fact that the Pension Reform Act 2004 did not abolish the payment of gratuity as a separate component of retirement benefit.
The chief negotiator, who enquired whether the Act abrogated the conditions of service of PHCN which was signed in March, 2010, asked government to pay gratuity to workers in the sector in accordance with the staff conditions of service.
On the computation of severance package and benefits accruable to workers, the report recommended “five weeks salary for every completed year of service on Basic Salary, subject to a maximum of 18 months. This is against the unions’ demand of “five weeks salary for every completed year of service, computed on total emolument and not subject to any ceiling”.
Meanwhile, the PHCN workers have criticised the recent bidding of PHCN facilities, stating that the process undertaken by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) was flawed.
Speaking under the umbrella of Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC), they said the bidding results announced by the BPE was a confirmation of what the unions had largely predicted that the whole essence of the privatisation exercise was to transfer PHCN assets to some rich Nigerians.
President of the union, Mr. Bede Opara, who expressed concern over the “flawed” bidding process said there is no place in the world where bidding is done the way it was carried out by the BPE, “putting technical and Financial evaluations as secondary, using seeming absolute evaluation concepts”.
“We are yet to know whether or not other bidders are not technically satisfactory to BPE as some of them had invited very sound, competent and experienced technical experts as partners. BPE only gave to those it favoured eliminating these other ones”, he said.
The union leader maintained that the BPE was deliberately applying the wrong method as it did in all its failed and attempted sales just to satisfy the desire of interested parties in government and the large business community.
He expressed fear that the privatisation of PHCN assets may go the way of Nigeria Airways, Ajaokuta Steels, Daily Times amongst others “where the successful bidders turned these National resources moribund, where their assets were either vandalised or stripped off, for the Government, at tax-payers expense, to pick up the pieces again where no one is sanctioned”.
“We also ask the question where are the over 300 investors (foreign) that showed interest in PHCN at the inception of bidding? How suddenly have they evaporated for only grossly in-experienced Nigerian registered fronts to pass the bidding?
“In the face of this attempt to rip off Nigerians once again, we demand from Government to urgently pay workers of PHCN our legitimate benefits. This demand becomes apt now that Government is selling off PHCN facilities at grossly undervalued rates,” he stressed.
He alleged that the BPE had already earmarked to sell PHCN at low prices as the returns from the sales would not be adequate to pay workers entitlements hence the refusal of government to accede to the legitimate demands of the unions.
He declared the readiness of workers in the sector to engage government in a showdown over any attempt by the government to shortchange workers’ entitlements.
“We therefore insist that without payment of workers entitlements/benefits, nobody will be allowed to take over these facilities. Any attempt to forcefully do so, will be adequately resisted by our members.
“In addition to this, we also demand that any additional investments made by Government on these facilities should be paid for separately by the so called investors,” he added.