Power Sector Lost N7.7bn to Workers’ Strikes in Two Years, Says Fashola

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FG frets over NLC’s planned protest
Chineme Okafor and Paul Obi in Abuja
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, on Thursday said frequent strikes by workers in Nigeria’s electricity industry resulted in huge revenue losses to the sector with about N7.734 billion was lost between 2014 and 2016 alone.

Fashola who spoke at the third triennial delegate conference of the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC) in Abuja, also called on workers in the power sector to progressively begin to shed off their resistance to new private investors in the sector, as well as their views of the investors as exploitative.

He said a snap survey of strikes in the electricity sector and its affiliations which he conducted showed that between April 2014 and March 2016, strikes embarked upon by electricity workers union in the country had resulted in up to N7.734 billion revenue loss to the sector.

“Can an employee who caused the employer such financial losses in all good conscience expect improved welfare packages or industrial peace? Or have the employees taken over from the employer?” Fashola asked.

His claims and admonition also came with that of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who asked the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to consider ongoing negotiations on the recently introduced electricity tariff before embarking on a nationwide strike.
NLC had last Wednesday threatened to declare a one-day nationwide strike against the government in protest against electricity tariff hike and fuel scarcity in the country, but Ngige noted that such action would be unnecessary because the National Assembly had already taken up the issue.

He thus asked NLC to in deference to the National Assembly, hold on with its planned industrial action.
However, Fashola who decried his claims of electricity workers’ continuous resistance of private investors’ plans to upgrade the country’s power sector as well as government’s implementation of its policies in the sector, averred that today, government employees cling more to their unions than to government to the detriment of expected productivity.

He noted that the workers had in this regard failed to realise that the unions do not pay their wages but the government,and that the task of making sure that electricity is produced and supplied to Nigerians was a collective responsibility that the workers who in turn rely on the sector’s revenue share.

The minister said to the union: “The finger pointing should stop. Our responsibility is to provide electricity, let us go back to work, we will solve the disputes one by one. It is improved productivity of electricity that yields the money that goes into your pockets, let us understand it because you don’t get paid in advance but in arrears.

“You produce power and collect revenues. Electricity is now largely private sector driven, let us not see those who have invested as our opponents, let us try and learn their language and also communicate in our own language.”

Speaking on other outstanding labour issues in the sector, he said: “If there is an agreement that the whole purpose of this relationship is that your employer will earn profit as a result of what we the workers produce and that we will earn our wages based on what has been agreed, why should there really be a dispute, whys should we continue these disagreements?

On his part, Ngige said: “The dispute over the increment in electricity tariff is right before the National Assembly and it is only right that as law abiding social partners, that all parties afford the National Assembly to arbitrate. The chairman of NLC is not here but this occasion offers a crucial avenue for me to state government’s position on this hot button issue.”
He urged SSAEAC to be committed to a productive change and the inculcation of sanity in the conduct of government business and hoped that the change mantra would instill discipline in the entire citizenry of Nigeria and promote transparency, accountability and other good governance principles.

Ngige maintained that the dialectical relationship between capitalism and labour should be played down and minimised in order to enable a viable environment for sustainable development and growth of the nation devoid of industrial actions.