Workers in the electricity sector have made good their threat to cripple operations as it embarked on an indefinite nationwide strike yesterday.
The shutdown cuts across the Distribution Companies in Nigeria (DISCOs), Generation Companies (GENCOS) and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) where the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) has its members.
All entrances to DISCOs offices visited by our correspondents in Lagos and Ibadan, yesterday, were barricaded as early as 5a.m.
President of the union, Mr Martin Uzegbu, said the shutdown would continue as long as Federal Government continues to neglect workers’ demands.
Top officials of Ikeja and Eko Electricity Distribution Companies lamented that the shutdown took them unawares, though they acknowledged that the union copied them the same letter of the ultimatum sent to the federal government.
“We’re not aware of what they wanted. We also read in the newspaper about the ultimatum. It’s best for them to come out and discuss. It’s not only their members that work here, so for them to have shut down and blocked the entrances, disturbing our operations is quite abnormal,” the officials said.
Members of Senior Staff of Electricity and Allied Companies (SSAEAC) also dissociated themselves from the strike.
A top member of the union said the senior staff did not see the need to go on strike as dialogue was ongoing with the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE).
But General Secretary of NUEE, Mr Joe Ajaero, said there was no going back on the industrial action over unresolved labour issues, including alleged refusal by some DISCOs to remit contributory pension funds to workers’ Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs).
Ajaero said the 21-day ultimatum issued by the workers ended on Tuesday without the Ministry of Power responding to the union’s demands. According to him, the union was left without option than to withdraw services of its members having exhausted every avenue for the resolution of the dispute. He said the only response from the ministry was the letter sent to the union on November 18, 2019.
In the letter, NUEE general secretary said the minister assured the union that something would be done immediately he settled down. But after they waited and nothing happened, they wrote another letter on December 6, still without response.
“We gave strike notice which expired on Tuesday.”
He said the union was impressed with the conduct of its members.
“Compliance was 100 per cent and we are continuing tomorrow until government listens to our demands.”
The union in a statement, signed by Ajaero had accused Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) of failing to address and pay up over 2,000 disengaged workers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) since 2013.
Besides alleged underpayment of severance of over 50,000 ex-PHCN staff and illegal transfer of schools built by the union to investors, the union accused GENCOS of refusing to sign Condition of Service and rules of engagement, adding that some DISCOs were also denying the retirement benefits of some electricity workers.
It said the strike was the only option left for the union as the Federal Government had failed to dialogue with them to find lasting solutions to the lingering issues.
Mr Victor Idemudia, Communications Manager, EKEDC, said union members prevented staff from accessing the offices early yesterday, warning that power distribution in their areas of operations would be affected if the situation persists.
“This is going to affect the economy of this country and we are appealing to the government and labour to urgently resolve the issue,” he said.
Mr Olusola Ayeni, Corporate Communications Officer, Ikeja Electric, pleaded with NUEE and the government to find an amicable solution to the issue in order not to disrupt power supply nationwide.
Reacting, Chairman, Gombe State council of the umbrella body of the unions, Mr Auwal Kamal said they were waiting for further directive from the national body.
“I assure you that if they say the total shutdown continues it will continue. It could even be extended to total black out if the leaders of the unions deem it fit,” he said.
Reps move to avert electricity workers strike
However, House of Representatives has waded in by summoning Minister of Power, Mr Saleh Mamman and his counterpart in Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr Chris Ngige, as well as the various GENCOs and DISCOs over the grievances of NUEE.
The green chamber urged the Federal Government to direct Ministers of Power, Labour and Employment to resolve all the issues raised by NUEE, and also mandated its Committees on Power, Labour and Employment to investigate the allegations against the electricity companies and report within two weeks.
Deputy Minority Leader, Mr Toby Okechukwu, under matters of urgent importance, called on the representatives to take urgent steps to avert strike.
Kano Disco assures customers of continued services
Management of Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) has assured its numerous customers that its cash, customers’ services and revenue offices would remain open, while the sales representatives would continue to distribute bills and collections.
It stated that the decision was to ensure that its numerous customers were not denied services and value for their money as well as ensure that their complaints are given prompt attention.