NLC to down tools over electricity tariff

Helen Shok Jok, Abuja

Nigeria Labour Congress NLC, says it will soon declare a day of strike and protest against the high tariff in electricity billing in the country.

The Congress is also planning what it called a one day action of protest and national warning strike against the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai over his stance on unionisation of the state work force.

President of the NLC Ayuba Wabba disclosed this on Wednesday in Abuja in an address presented to the opening session of the Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting of the Congress held at the Labour House.

He said the response to the prevailing economic situation by all tiers of government in the country has been a source of worry for many Nigerians, especially Nigerian workers.

According to him, “Nigerians are feeling the heat and harsh realities of the economic crisis in the country, whose immediate cause is the drastic fall in the price of crude oil, which is the primary source of our nation’s foreign exchange earnings”.

Specifically, the NLC president decried what he called the unjustifiable 45 per cent increase in electricity tariff, saying that the increase was “illegal, unfair, unjustifiable and a further exploitation of the already exploited Nigerians.”  Wabba said.

He pointed out that due process in the extant laws for such an increment was not followed in consonance with Section 76 of the Power Sector Reform Act, 2005.

In his opinion, “there has not been significant improvement in service delivery coupled with the fact that most consumers are not metered in accordance with the signed Privatisation Memorandum (MoU) of November 21, 2013 which stipulates that within 18 months gestation period, all consumers are to be metered, despite the national action organised by the Congress in the 36 states of the federation including Abuja, which was adjudged as hugely successful; the intervention of the National Assembly and especially the Senate President who received the protesters at the National Assembly premises in Abuja, nothing has changed to redress the hike in tariffs.”
“The privatisation of the power sector was done in bad faith and it has become obvious that the investors do not have the capacity to improve power generation and supply in the country”. The NLC President said.

The CWC is expected to agree on a day to embark on the strike, because according to Comrade Wabba, several actions promised by the Federal Government to checkmate the tariff increment have not been implemented.

He said: “While the process is on, the tariff increase has remained, and under a worsening power supply situation. Not a few Nigerians are groaning under this burden. Not a few of them look to the Congress for a solution.”

On fuel scarcity, Wabba pointed out that when the first incident occurred under this government, “we put it to sabotage and urged the government to deal decisively with the saboteurs but with an eye to enhance local production as an enduring solution. When the second incident happened, we similarly reasoned the same way.

“However, with the latest incident of prolonged scarcity and confession by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources that scarcity will persist till May as he is not a magician, regular scarcity might as well be a familiar feature, and we would do well to brace ourselves for long spells, except government does the needful.”

“We must however make the point that spells of scarcity will not be acceptable to Labour and other Nigerians because the human and economic costs are unimaginable.” He said.

He added: “While we appreciate government’s effort to make available petroleum products  on an  uninterruptible basis, such effort  must be seen to be result-yielding and immediate because of the place of petroleum products in the lives of the citizenry, it’s scarcity even for a day generates ripple and crippling effects.”

The NLC president called for immediate constitution of the board of Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)  adding  that the PPPRA is a government agency that has the right to fix and regulate petroleum prices, “any action taken as regards fuel price adjustment in the absence of a board of PPPRA amounts to illegality”.

Kaduna State

The NLC wants the Kaduna State Government in North-west Nigeria to allow unions thrive in the state or face industrial action.

“We have issues with the Kaduna State Government. In January this year, the Kaduna State Council drew the attention of the Congress to the twin issue of delay in payment of salaries of a segment of workers due to a prolonged staff audit exercise and the death of 28 workers at the venue of the verification exercise in Zaria. However the Governor promised compensation, which we just learnt today has been done.”

Wabba believes that the response of the government may have come due to the intervention of the NLC in the matter.

Speaking further he said that  “in our intervention, we drew the attention of the government to the fact that deduction and remittance of check-off dues is not at the pleasure or discretion of government but is governed by Section  16A of  the Trade Unions Act (as amended 2015) which states inter alia:

“Upon the registration and recognition of any Trade Union specified in the Third Schedule of this Act, an employer shall;
“Make deduction from the wages of every worker who is a member of the trade union for the purpose of paying contributions to the Trade Union so registered; and” Remit such deductions to the registered office of the Trade Union within a reasonable period or such period as may be prescribed from time to time by the Registrar”.

While we are happy to report to you that this intervention worked, we are concerned that barely two months after, the government of Kaduna State has come up with something new and, perhaps, more insidious.

On my way from the burial of the late  Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr Ocholi James, SAN, the Chairperson, Kaduna State Council  reached out to  me to say  the Governor, in violation of the extant laws and practice, had issued a form requesting workers to tick “Yes/No” to belong to trade unions. I smelt a rat and gave clear and precise instructions that workers should not fill this form with an assurance that I would be in Kaduna the next day being Saturday  in company of the TUC President to address workers.

We did address workers as promised as could be evidenced by the reports in the media. I brought back to Abuja a copy of this form, which I here present to you for perusal. The form is called “Special Exercise on Staff Verification”, with an instruction to tick “Yes /No” with regard to union membership. The form also demands that workers disclose the name(s) of the union(s) to which they belong.”

The NLC President insisted that “this government’s latest policy or directive is not only an affront but a direct violation of the fundamental and constitutional rights of workers as enshrined in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended); Conventions 87 and 98 of ILO ( ratified by Nigeria); and the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act  which guarantee the right and protection of workers to freely associate, unionise and operate independently of government”.

Wabba also expressed the Congress’ concern on the state of the nation’s economy, National Budget, Rivers State election re-run and the non payment of salaries by some state governments among others.