Days after the nationwide blackout which generated a lot of reactions from Nigerians, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige has disclosed that the recent strike embarked on by electricity workers is centered on a power tussle between National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC).
This disclosure was made by the Minister during a show on Channels Television, Lunchtime Politics.
Chris Ngige revealed that the strike action the electricity workers embarked upon over non-payment of a severance package for members who were affected by the unbundling of Power Holding Company of Nigeria PHCN into eleven electricity distribution companies (DisCos), six generating companies (GenCos), and a transmission company (TCN), caused the country billions of Naira and loss of lives.
Ngige also stated that he warned members of the unions against doing anything that will affect the nation adversely. He affirmed that more investigation will be carried out and relevant labour laws will be invoked on any of the union found wanting.
He said; “My initial investigation as the Minister of Labour is that there is a power-play between NUEE and the Senior Staff Association of Electricity Workers who are domiciled there.
“There is a power struggle on who is senior and who is more potent in terms of effecting unionism and they have carried this on and inflicted the whole country with a power outage that has caused us billions of naira and loss of lives; it is unfair and I have told them not to do that.
“The unions are not ‘Omni-Sacrosanct’ that we can’t do anything to them, we will look at the issue and if they are liable, I will invoke the relevant sections of the labour act on that.
“The preliminary investigation shows that there is a power play, and they cannot use power play to punish the entire nation and make us lose man-hours, billions of naira and lose lives in hospitals that their generators are not working.”
On the dispute between the Ministry of Power, Distribution Companies (DisCos) and Generating companies (GenCos), the Labour minister blamed the electricity workers for the strike action while insisting that the rule of law must be obeyed.
He added; “The rule of law is not for the government alone, it is for the citizens too. There are set laws for people to apply in industrial relations and all are encapsulated in the trade dispute act.
“Before somebody on essential service, of which electricity workers are one, can proceed on industrial action; you must notify your direct employers first and the onus is on them to convene a meeting, they then approach the labour ministry, the labour minister is there, that’s my work and they give the ultimatum and there are special forms called the ‘Trade Dispute forms’ which they fill and lodge in the Ministry; all that was not done.
“They just had issues with their direct employers which are the Ministry of Power, the DisCos which is mostly privatized with the government having just 40 percent while the investors have 60 percent.”
Ngige averred that the issue is between the DisCos and GenCos, with the Federal Government being involved in only the severance package.
“Some of the problems are in the DisCos, the GenCos and some with the government. The Government side of the problem is where they said that some of the people that were severed when those parastatals were privatized have not been paid off.
“The statistics are there and it is only about 600 persons that their cases are outstanding and out of those, 400 have been captured and sent to the Accountant-General of the Federation because what had happened is that all the monies gathered from the sales of privatization were expended in terms of the severance benefits and other allowances that were due to the workers that had to leave those DisCos and GenCos, so 98 percent of the money went in there.
“Shortfall in salaries is a continuous thing and is being addressed and it’s not even a government thing, it is with the DisCos,” he stressed.