20 February, 2020Unions in the oil and gas sector are furious over the refusal of General Electric International Operations in Nigeria (GEION) to pay millions of US dollars allegedly owed to its Nigerian sub-contractor, the Arco Group, which is prejudicing outstanding gratuities and allowances of 150 workers.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, the Nigerian Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum & Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) picketed at GEION offices in Lagos on 3 February demanding immediate payment of the benefits due since 2016.
The unions met with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, on 10 February and asked the federal government to once again intervene in the dispute to stop the suffering of the workers. According to the unions, five workers from the Arco Group have since died, while most live in poverty mainly due to loss of income as a result of the retrenchments and are failing to send their children to school.
The Arco Group had a contract with GEION to hire workers and maintain gas plants and turbines for French Company AGIP in the Niger Delta and River State which ended in 2016. AGIP paid GEION which was supposed to pay the Arco Group. The Arco Group then had to pay workers in terms of the contract. The Arco Group says it is unable to pay because it is owed money by GEION which overcharged by withholding tax, deducting 10 per cent instead of the 5 per cent required by law. According to the Arco Group, this double taxation happened from 2006-2015.
Lanre Badmus, head of the Lagos Zone of NUPENG said:
“The Ministry of Labour and Employment intervened, and a memorandum of understanding was signed with NUPENG and other parties. In December 2019, the companies even promised to pay the workers in seven days. However, General Electric claimed that it needed time to reconcile excess withholding tax deductions with the Federal Inland Revenue System (FIRS). The protesting workers are only asking for their severance benefits. Nigerian workers cannot continue to be treated with contempt, and their rights abused without consequences.”
Badmus added that since the FIRS have done the reconciliations, unions are shocked that no payments were made to the workers to date.
Diana Junquera Curiel, IndustriALL director for the energy industry, said:
“We support our affiliates demands for the immediate payment of the pension benefits and gratuities to the Arco Group workers. General Electric must respect International labour standards and the national laws of Nigeria and stop further delays that are causing heartbreaking misery to the workers.”