Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
Port Harcourt metropolis and most parts of Rivers State were on Monday thrown into darkness as the organised labour took over the office of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC).
As early as 7a.m., labour leaders had taken over the Moscow Road headquarters of PHEDC in Port Harcourt and prevented workers from having access to their offices.
Addressing journalists at the office, the President of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Mr. Martin Uzoegwu, said: “We are gathered here today (yesterday) because PHEDC has refused to implement the rulings of the National Industrial Court. They (PHEDC) have been able to perpetrate anti-labour action, especially against its workers and Labour as an organisation is saying no to this.
“That is why we are here to show our concerns and to picket the headquarters of PHEDC. We are saying that enough is enough for this injustice meted on these particular people. The court is saying that PHEDC should allow workers to unionise and they (PHEDC) are owing us check-off dues since 2013. The check-off dues have been deducted and they have not submitted it. That is a criminal act and that is why we are here to tell them to do the right thing.”
The Chairman of the Port Harcourt zone of the National Union of Petroleum and Energy Workers of Nigeria (NUPENG), Charles Eletu , also said: “We are here to ensure that the rights of PHEDC workers are not breached. The way PHED has been treating the workers and the consumers is not acceptable.
“All of are aware that consumers pay for meter, but it will always take PHEDC time to issue out meters that have been paid for. Both of us are also witnesses to the outrageous bills given to consumers. Then we come to the workers, who are not given the right to unionise.
“There is random sacking of workers without due process. Even the ones that the court had ordered that the workers should be reinstated, PHEDC has decided not to do anything. Does that mean we no longer obey the rule of law in this country?
“So, the United Labour Congress has decided to take this action that PHEDC must be picketed today and if they ( PHEDC) decide to be stubborn, we may consider going on a nationwide strike to make sure that workers have their right and the consumers are also treated normally.”
He called on the federal government and the state governments to come and ensure that electricity distribution companies are called to order.
“Why would consumers pay for meters and PHED would find it difficult to provide the metres? Outrageous bills every now and then, illegal men working for them.
“People working for them are not recognised. Allow them to unionise; no way. We are not halppy about it,” he said.
But in its reaction, the management if PHEDC said it was shocked at the situation and decried the attendant power situation in the state occasioned by the picketing.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt, the spokesman of PHEDC, John Onyi, said: “The Management of PHEDC, wishes to inform her valued customers of the shock which occurred this morning where all the company’s offices in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers States were barricaded and shut down by labour leaders for reasons yet to be ascertained.
“Our esteemed customers are enjoined to stay in touch through 09087838800 and 09087838801 24/7 call centre lines for fault reporting and make payments through banks and accredited pay agents.
“However, efforts are on to dialogue with the labour leaders with a view to finding a lasting solution.
The inconvenience caused by the union’s action is regretted.”