By Bimbola Oyesola
Oil workers yesterday shut down offices of General Electric (GE) in Lagos and Port Harcourt over the inability of the management to honour collective agreement signed with the organised labour and the Federal Government last year.
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) had picketed GE office at Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Victoria Island, over what it termed the refusal of GE management to fulfil its agreement with Arco Group Plc, a member of PENGASSAN and leading oil and gas servicing company.
PENGASSAN accused GE of failure to pay Arco and the workers for the service rendered. These include outstanding allowances, overall allowance, severance and contract allowances.
This, the union said, has hindered Arco from fulfilling its obligation to its workers, thereby owing them for more than five months.
The picketing started around 6.30am, with hundreds of members of PENGASSAN blocking the entrance into GE’s office, thereby paralysing the activities of the company and other tenants of the building.
The protesters were chanting songs and displayed placards with inscriptions such as: “A debtor is a traitor”; “Work no pay is a crime against humanity”; “GE pay us”; “General Electric respect Nigerian workers”, “General Electric pay our money”.
The Lagos Zonal Chairman, PENGASSAN, Abel Agarin, said the union decided to picket GE because the company has failed to honour the agreement between the two parties, despite the involvement of the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, in the matter.
He said: “this can only happen in Nigeria for an IOC to flout the order of a Minister and take workers for granted. Arco is a contractor to GE and the contract has ended at the completion of its assignment. But GE has failed to pay for the service rendered two years after the job has been completed. We were both invited over the issue by the Minister in November last year.
“GE agreed that by November 30 last year, if Arco demobilised from the site, it will issue a quota invoice, which will mature in 30 days. This is expected to settle the backlog of payment, especially for the workers.”
Arco has since completed the demobilisation but up till now, GE has not issued any invoice. At the moment, some of the workers, including their families, are suffering.
“Some of the Arco workers in Port Harcourt are bedridden and we cannot fold our hands while all these are happening. Over 100 workers are affected.”
Agarin called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, interfere in the matter. “Federal Government has a part to play in this matter. We have written them over this issue and we are waiting for their response. If GE fails to honour the agreement, we will continue with the picketing and it will be more severe,” Agarin warned.
Though efforts to speak with officials of GE was not successful as non of them was on ground to make comment but the Property Manager of the GE office in Lagos, Abayomi Oyewumi, who pleaded with the union to suspend the action, promised to prevail upon the GE management to pay the debt.
He, however, assured the workers that GE would return to the negotiation table as other tenants of the building whose businesses have been impacted negatively would not want a repeat of the ugly incident.