Fresh Labour Unrest Threatens Power Supply as FG Allays Fear

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Chineme Okafor in Abuja

Nigeria’s public power supply system may face fresh challenges that could disrupt its stability following the resurgence of disagreements between the federal government and electricity workers union, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE).

THISDAY learnt that the reported lock-out of workers of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) last week from the premises of the corporate headquarters of the company in Abuja by the Ministry of Power, as well as unresolved labour issues in the privatisation of defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) are two of the main issues that may trigger another round of industrial disharmony in the power sector.

The development, the paper however learnt is being followed closely by the federal government whose ministry of labour and employment has intervened to stop NUEE from going on strike after a circular was issued by the General Secretary of the union, Joe Ajaero, instructing all workers of the TCN at their various posts across the country to down tools.

Ajaero had in the circular indicated that the decision of the ministry of power to allegedly bully workers of TCN at the corporate headquarters with military personnel was not acceptable to the union. He thus asked workers at the various posts of TCN to stay away from their works, then suggesting a possible industrial disharmony that may affect nationwide power supply.

But the ministry of labour has reportedly held a meeting with both parties where a commitment was extracted from NUEE not to go on strike over the developments. NUEE said there are extant labour related issues in the privatisation of PHCN which the government has remained reluctant to attend to.
Currently, the country generates just about 3639 megawatts (MW) of electricity owing to recent cuts in gas supply to thermal power plants in the south of Nigeria.

Also, the Ministry of Power has responded to the development, saying nothing of such was in the offing and that the country’s power supply system was not under any threat of labour strike.

It said in a statement that was sent out by its Director of Press, Timothy Oyedeji: “The attention of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has been drawn to reports that the leadership of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), has issued instructions to its Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) members to stay away from their duty posts. The reports have understandably led to fears of a nation-wide blackout, as has also been reported.”

The statement said: “The ministry, after consulting the management of TCN, wishes to state in clear terms that it is not aware of any declaration of industrial dispute by NUEE, nor any lawful notice of strike action against TCN. Therefore no staff of TCN has any legitimate cause to absent him or herself from duty.”

The ministry said it was fully aware that the Nigeria Police initiated heightened security measures at the PHCN Headquarters building located at 14, Zambezi Crescent, Maitama, which is also the head office of TCN.

It added: “The heightened security became necessary as a result of a series of security breaches in the building by persons who claimed to be carrying out the instructions of NUEE, some of whom were not identified by TCN as their staff. The most recent incident was targeted at officers of the Nigeria Police Force who were in the building on official assignments, and accompanied by officials of the ministry.”

The ministry however said the heightened security measures were not meant to lock out any official of TCN or any member of the public who has legitimate business with TCN.
It added: “The NPF put the measures in place to protect federal government facilities and operations. The measures are also meant to ensure the building is accessible only to persons who are authorised to be in the building by TCN or the Ministry.

“The measures were put in place by NPF to secure a safe working environment for all TCN and ministry staff in the building, including any staff of TCN who happens to be NUEE member.”

While further allaying fears of possible blackout in the country, the ministry said it has confirmed from TCN that appropriate contingencies were in place to safeguard the national grid and avert any unnecessary inconvenience.

The ministry also warned that any staff of TCN who absents him or herself from work without a legitimate reason should be prepared to forego any compensation for the period of such absence and to face the disciplinary processes that govern his or her employment contract with TCN.