Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) Monday alerted the federal government and new investors of a looming danger of industrial harmony in the power sector, which if not urgently addressed, could undermine whatever benefit that has been recorded in the just concluded privatisation exercise in the sector.
The Director General of NECA, Mr. Olusegun Oshinowo, who raised the alarm at a press conference in Lagos, said guaranteeing regular electricity supply went beyond handing over of the assets of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to private investors.
He explained that the environment that would make the workers to give their best as well as the practice and system that would ensure that the workers gave their best should also be given appropriate consideration.
He warned that if the industrial relations practice and system in the electricity sector was not handled with professionalism and given premium, it could undo whatever benefits that could be realised under the new dispensation of privatisation.
According to him, without industrial peace and harmony in the sector, the objectives of the reforms in the sector cannot be achieved and this could create serious problem for the country.
“If we are going to have regular electricity supply, it is quite possible that it could be a hope that may not materialise. The belief is that private sector is far more effective than the public sector. But it will only happen if we make sure that all the variables, all the key factors and parameters that have to be tended are actually tended to.
“Now, the physical assets have been handed over to private investors and from the old dispensation where we have one octopus employer, we now have about 20 to 25 different employers in which case the dispensation has changed. But we must realise that old dispensation have their culture, tradition, practice and system. These are things that you cannot change overnight and are actually key to the realisation of the hope of regular electricity.
“We believe that if the industrial relations practice and system in the electricity sector is not handled with professionalism, if that variable is not accorded attention, if that variable is not given premium, it can undo whatever benefits we are all hoping for under this new dispensation of privatisation.
“Now the new investors require human assets to work on the physical assets so that we can have regular electricity. The human asset that is required has been used to a highly unionised environment where the workers looked up to their union to represent their interest in promoting their welfare. Those new employers must first recognise the rights of the employees which include the right to unionise which is in line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 87 and is line with the country’s labour law,” Oshinowo said.
Speaking further, he emphasised that any failure to recognise these rights will amount to throwing a spanner into the entire template of guaranteeing regular power supply in the nation’s economy.
“The right to associate with the union of their choice, the right to collective bargaining must be recognised by the new employers. These are big issues that nobody is talking about. As far as the Bureau of Public Enterprises (PBE) and the National Electricty Regulartion Commission (NERC) are concerned, they have done the needful in terms of privatising the physical assets. I have not seen in their template, the reform plan for industrial relations. Now guaranteeing regular electricity supply goes beyond handing over the physical assets. What about inherited industrial practice that we are really talking about? This is because without industrial harmony and peace in that sector, I am sorry to say we will be back to square one,” Oshinowo added.