By Victor Ahiuma-Young Prince Okafor
AGGRIEVED members of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN and their Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, counterparts, Wednesday shut down the operations of General Electric, GE, in Lagos and Port Harcourt, over alleged unpaid debt to Arco Group Plc.
Arco Group Plc, a leading oil and gas servicing company, is said to be finding it difficult to pay its workers in the past six months because of alleged refusal of GE to pay Arco for the jobs done for GE.
It was gathered that the picketing became inevitable because GE had not paid Arco Group demobilization payment due to it to enable it pay its workers from the OBOB/Ebocha/KwaleAgip gas plants in the Niger Delta region.
Some of the workers were declared redundant in October 2016 and their services severed.
Vanguard gathered that despite the intervention of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, directing the American company to honour its contractual agreement with Arco to enable it pay the salaries of its workers, GE was said to have refused.
According to sources, among others, the workers are being owed outstanding allowances, overall allowance, severance and contract allowance.
In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, members of both NUPENG and PENGASSAN took part in the picketing, while only PENGASSAN members were visible in Lagos.
The workers who stormed Mansard Place, on Bishop Aboyade Cole Street, Victoria Island, crippled operations of four other companies, including AXA Mansard Investment, and Novartis which operating in the building.
While displayed placards with inscriptions such “GE pay us our money, GE, is a debtor and a traitor, General Electric respect Nigeria workers and Our wages is our rights”, the protesting workers chanted solidarity songs,
Lagos Zonal Chairman of PENGASSAN, Mr. Abel Agarin, while addressing journalists, said it was agreed during a meeting with the Minster of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in November 30, 2016, that Arco would pay salary arrears and outstanding benefits when Arco demobilises from the project site.
According to him, Arco complied with the conditions of the agreement by completely withdrawing from the project site in February while GE has failed to issue a purchase invoice as agreed.
Agarin said, “GE has failed to accept responsibility. We were invited to Abuja, during the meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment last year, GE agreed that if Arco is able to demobilise from site, as soon as possible, it will issue them a purchasing invoice that will get matured in 30 days. And by February this year, Arco completed the demobilisation and the purchase invoice promised by GE is not forthcoming. We are now in April and GE is foot dragging, and there is no information from them, despite the directive to fulfil their promise.
We are not going to leave until it comes up with a statement of commitment to that effect. We don’t need further extension of this payment. Unless they agree to start paying the arrears of the other months that our members can receive salaries. If you go to the Arco office in Port Harcourt, so many of the workers are bedridden and have no money to pay the medical bills. We cannot fold our arms while these people are dying.
These people have laboured on this job and they need to be paid. Arco is unable to mobilise for any other job due to lack of funds. There have been series of meeting and one of those meeting was held at the Ministry of Labour and Employment.”
However, at about 12.30 pm, an official of the company that manages the building, identified as Abayomi Oyewumi, was able to convince the protesting workers to suspend their action to enable other tenants to access their offices and promised to facilitate a meeting between GE and Arco for amicable resolution of the issue.
The workers while agreeing to suspend the action, vowed to come back with a greater force should the intervention fail.