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PHCN Workers Threaten Total Blackout

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Federal government insists on the November 1, deadline of handing over PHCN successor companies to core investors, affected workers threaten to shut down the entire system unless all their entitlements are paid before that date

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Nov. 4, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

ALL is now set for the physical takeover of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, by the successor investors. There are indications that the federal government has scheduled November 1, 2013 for the actual takeover. But Benjamin Dikki, director general, Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, said the government was yet to announce any date for the physical handover. However, he said the date would only be announced when government must have addressed some critical issues to ensure a successful and proper takeover by the private investors.

Dikki said that a total of 40,093 workers of the PHCN had been cleared to receive their terminal benefits preparatory to the handover to successor companies. In a statement made available to Realnews by Chigbo Anichebe, BPE, head, public communications, Dikki stated that the privatisation agency had remitted N342.8bn to the office of the accountant general of the federation for the payment of workers’ entitlements. The cleared workers, whose names have also been forwarded to the AG’s office, represent 84 percent of the workers of the company numbering about 47,000.

[caption id="attachment_14716" align="alignright" width="305"]Opara Opara[/caption]

Dikki said the schedules of payment, which were transferred to the office of the accountant general by the BPE in six batches, cut across workers at the PHCN headquarters, the generation companies, distribution companies and the Transmission Company of Nigeria. According to him, the accountant general has confirmed the payment of three schedules, totalling 26,899 persons. “The payment covers the severance benefits and retirement savings accounts components.” He said the office of the accountant general had given an assurance that by next week, another two batches (four and five), totalling 11,716 workers would be paid their entitlements.

On union dues, the BPE boss said that the office of the accountant general had confirmed the remittance of N3 billion to the two PHCN unions, the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies and National Union of Electricity Employees, deducted from the PHCN workers’ benefits. He said the federal government had demonstrated a great commitment to resolving labour issues in the power sector.

Apart from committing the entire proceeds realised from the sale of power assets to the payment of the workers’ terminal benefits, the government had, at the initial stage of the transaction, released N57 billion to take care of the workers’ pension. He added that all the benefits came after government had increased the workers’ salaries by 50 percent and regularised the employment of some of the casual workers.

But the senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies, SSAEAC, has said that the PHCN workers must be paid their terminal benefits before the final hand-over to the new owners. In a petition to the minister of power, the association claimed that the money purported to have been paid to the workers after the October 2, agreement with government never entered the workers’ accounts. It reiterated its position that no new owner would take physical possession of PHCN assets until all workers had been paid their terminal benefits.

The petition by Bede Opara, SSAEAC president-general, warned that workers would shut down the sector should efforts be made to physically take over the assets without full payment of workers’ benefits. “We state here that in our meeting with the chairman, implementation committee, the permanent secretary and minister of power on Wednesday 2nd October, 2013, it was agreed that payment of terminal benefits of PHCN staff will be concluded in two weeks from that date. However, we note that up to this moment, only a handful of payment has been made.

[caption id="attachment_14717" align="alignright" width="412"]PHCN workers protesting PHCN workers protesting[/caption]

“What we heard or read in the newspapers is that government intends to physically hand over the PHCN infrastructures to the investors on 1st of November, 2013. We state that this will negate and violate the understanding and agreement reached with the unions and we clearly state again that we shall resist any physical hand-over until all payments are concluded.

“Information available to us is as follows: Benin, 50 percent not paid yet, Jos, 55 percent not paid yet, Sapele, 77 people not paid, Egbin, 60 people not paid yet, Ughelli, 61 people not paid yet, Afam, 67 people not paid yet, Kaduna, 100 per cent yet to collect – nobody has been paid. Jebba 219 people are yet to be paid, Abuja, over 1000 people not paid, transmission -none has been paid and, retirement savings account, RSA, entitlements not paid to anyone.

“Government had said and made us to believe that the money needed was available. We also got the assurance of the accountant-general of the federation that money is available to pay. Who is holding the money or refusing to release it to the beneficiaries? Government should act now or else, no one should blame the labour union for any action that would be taken,” the petition said.

Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has assured Nigerians that labour issues, especially the payment of workers’ entitlements, would not stop the federal government from physically handing over the privatised power generation and distribution companies to private investors in the next two weeks. “Power assets will be physically handed over to the private sector in two weeks’ time. Labour issues will be fully resolved and all entitlements will be paid. There is no need for industrial demonstration,” he said.

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