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Nnaji Issues ‘Final Warning’ to Management of PHCN

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(Abuja, Wednesday 2 November 2011). Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, yesterday issued “a second and final warning” to the management of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and its 18 successor companies to pay their workers the enhanced salary package negotiated by labour or risk the anger of the Ministry.

The Minister said he was displeased by reports that chief executives of some of the PHCN successor companies have yet to begin full implementation of the 50% increase in staff salary which the Federal Government approved for the PHCN staff with effect from June 2011.

The Minister had in a letter to the PHCN executives dated 27 October 2011, reiterated that the Federal Government not only accepted to pay for the first three months to enable the successor companies to adjust to the new salary structure but has also made available the funds for immediate payment.

There are indications that government and the trade union of junior workers in the power sector may be heading for a showdown over the implementation of the new pay, due to what insiders describe as “politicization of the power sector reforms.”

The Ministry had stated that in line with the decisions reached with labour, only workers who are captured in the ongoing biometric data exercise of PHCN staff members will be paid, to ensure accountability and transparency. In a letter written on October 28, 2011, the Chief executive of PHCN, Engineer Hussein Labo, had informed all the CEOs that the conduct of the biometric exercise “is a precondition for the payment of the arrears of the 50% salary increase for June, July and August”.

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The leadership of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), on the other hand, wants the payment to be made without verification.

“In fact,” a source said, “the union’s leadership has decided to call for a strike if all 50,000 PHCN workers are not fully paid before the forthcoming Muslim holidays, verification or no verification”.

It was also revealed that the NUEE General Secretary, Mr. Joseph Ajaero, says only the casual PHCN workers should be verified, rather than both regular and casual staffers.

A top official in the Ministry of Power accused the NUEE leadership of “acting in bad faith”, disclosing that the ministry “is fast losing patience with the antics of the trade union.”

He continued: “We know that Ajaero wants to jeopardise the ongoing power sector reform which will culminate in the privatisation of the six generation and 11 distribution companies in the middle of next year.”

Top ministry officials recounted steps taken by the Godluck Jonathan administration to improve the welfare of PHCN workers, including payment of N57b for monetised benefits which was delayed for seven years, granting of a percentage of shares in the PHCN companies slated for privatisation, the 50% salary increase and the decision to convert thousands of casual employees to the regular staff.” Despite this, the NUEE leadership is said to have remained “unduly combative and confrontational”.

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Both the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) have accused the union members of refusing their officials and representatives from gaining access to PHCN facilities across the country for evaluation.

“They have also vowed not to allow prospective private sector investors enter the PHCN premises”, said a Ministry of Power director, citing an August 2, 2010, circular by the NUEE scribe directing members to “chase away” BPE and PTFP officials as well as those interested in buying into the PHCN assets whom he called “intruders”.

Explaining the rationale for the biometric data collection, the Special Adviser to the Minister of Power, C. Don Adinuba, said the “exercise is designed to capture legitimate employees of PHCN and its unbundled companies into a central database for purposes of planning and human resource management. Similar exercises have been done or are being executed in other ministries and agencies of government ostensibly to weed out ghost workers.

A recent study shows that up to 30 percent of the workers currently employed and paid in the federal civil service can be classified as ghost workers.

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