Despite efforts by the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to stop a planned strike action by the corporation’s arm of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), the two unions recently commenced their protest against the cancellation of the closed pension system for the workers of the NNPC and its replacement with the Contributory Pension Scheme.

The unions also claimed that the management of the NNPC had also refused to fund contributions to the scheme, which they said remained the workers’ legacy pension plan.

Apart from affecting all the offices of the NNPC nationwide, PENGASSAN in a statement on Tuesday, said the strike also affected all the subsidiaries of the corporation, including the Petroleum Products Marketing Company, Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Company, Port Harcourt Refining Company, and Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company.

Other subsidiaries affected are the National Engineering and Technical Company Limited, Nigeria Gas Company, Hyson, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, National Petroleum Investment Management Services, Integrated Data Services Limited and Department of Petroleum Resources.

Tokunbo Korodo, chairman, NUPENG, Lagos zone, also announced that loading at all NNPC depots had been suspended and “whosoever is relying on any vessel for supply of petroleum products will not get it.”

According to Korodo, if the situation is not properly managed, it will affect private depots and result in the scarcity of petroleum products.

Babatunde Oke, PENGASSAN’s media and information officer, said contrary to reports that the NNPC had resolved the pension issue and other demands of its workers; there was a total shutdown at all NNPC offices and locations all over the country on Tuesday. He said the strike would continue until there was concrete commitment from the NNPC management to find a lasting solution to the issues.

“The demands of the workers are adequate and regular funding of the closed pension system, immediate steps to carry out turn around maintenance on the four refineries as agreed between the government and the two unions, NUPENG and PENGASSAN, and restoration of crude supply to the refineries,” Oke added.

He said that the issue had gone beyond granting a one-year grace to the NNPC by the National Pension Commission, but that the management of the corporation should put in place machinery to automatically fund the pension system without any bureaucratic bottleneck.

He noted that the funding had been delayed due to the inability of the board of the NNPC to meet for over a year to approve the proposal of the management for the pension system.

On the issue of TAM of the refineries, the PENGASSAN spokesperson said the federal government should implement without delay the memorandum of understanding between it and the unions to fix the refineries, adding that the government promised to commence the TAM in April but “this is September, we have not seen any commitment from the government on this.”

In a statement on Monday, the management of the NNPC had assured members of staff and the general public that it is taking steps to prevent the industrial action, stating that the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) has given a 12-month window for the NNPC to comply with the Pension Reform Act 2014 as amended.

PENCOM had earlier directed the corporation to “immediately take all necessary steps to transit to the Contributory Pension Scheme under the PRA”.

In a fresh directive dated September 15, 2014, PENCOM stated that “In order to accommodate your concerns, the commission hereby grants the NNPC a transition period of 12 months within which to ensure full compliance with the provisions of the PRA 2014.”

The corporation appealed to the leadership of the industrial unions to exercise restraint while it embarks on extensive engagement with PENCOM to resolve the issues. It also noted that since the commencement of the scheme in 2006, the management and its staff have made a lot of sacrifice to maintain the existing scheme and any premature cancellation of the scheme may lead to avoidable labour disaffection across board.

If not resolved soon, the strike embarked upon by NUPENG and PENGASSEN may lead to scarcity of petroleum products in the country. Already the four refineries located in Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Warri, were shut down and similarly, all the 23 depots operated by the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of NNPC, throughout the country ceased operations.

The House of Representatives Joint Committees on Petroleum (Upstream and Downstream) and Gas Resources recently summoned Diezani Alison-Madueke, petroleum minister, Joseph Dawah, and the leadership of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria over the crisis. In a statement jointly signed by Muraina Ajibola, chairman, Petroleum (Upstream); Dakuku Peterside, chairman, Petroleum (Downstream), and Bassey Ewa, chairman, Gas Resources, the committee raised concerns over the looming crisis in the oil and gas sector in the country.

“Our concern is driven by the major role oil and gas play in our economy and the enormous damage any disruption in the system will entail for the Nigerian people. Alive to our constitutional responsibilities, the joint House committees have decided to intervene in this matter with a view to resolving whatever the issues may be…” the statement read.

Johnson Alabi
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