The ongoing industrial action by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, against the management of Neconde petroleum is trying to weaken committed effort of the Asset Management Team put in place to turn the Oil Mining Lease, OML 42 into a prolific producing asset, writes CHIKA IZUORA.
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, last week issued a 72-hour ultimatum to the management of Neconde Energy Limited to recall sacked workers. The ultimatum is coming barely two weeks after the suspension of an industrial action embarked upon by PENGASSAN over alleged anti-labour practices and recalcitrance of the Neconde Energy Limited.
The management of the company was accused by the Union for the sack of workers who participated in the industrial action. Decrying the development, PENGASSAN said it has “issued a 72-hour ultimatum starting from Monday to Neconde management within which the five affected members should be recalled to work or face monumental consequences.”
According to PENGASSAN, Neconde Energy’s action was a flagrant violation of the terms and tenets of an agreement signed on May 18, 2017, between the two parties towards the suspension of the picketing of the company.
In the communiqué which was signed by PENGASSAN representatives led by chairman, PENGASSAN Lagos Zone, Comrade Abel Agarin and representatives of Neconde Energy led by its company/board secretary, Mr. Val Uche-Obi, who signed on behalf of the chairman of his company, Dr. Ernest Azudialu, and the chief executive officer, Mr. Frank Edozie, among others, it was agreed that nobody would be victimised on the ground of the industrial action.
The senior staff trade union said that the company terminated the employment of five members on June 1, 2017 based on the industrial actions. According to a statement by Comrade Agarin, the management of Neconde Energy Limited has resolved to continually harass and victimise senior staff members, particularly those who participated actively in the recent industrial action.
“It is our position that the termination exercise is unlawful, not in line with equity, good conscience, industrial relations best practices and extant labour laws. We are aware of the efforts by Neconde management to balkanise the union and we are categorically saying that this will be vehemently resisted,” Agarin stated.
LEADERSHIP reports that the recent industrial action commenced on May 15, 2017 with the picketing of the premises of Neconde simultaneously in Lagos and Warri. The grievances that led to the industrial action include forceful restructuring (evidenced in realignment, grade categorisation and harmonisation of salary structure and downgrade of conditions of service/contractual terms of employment) of Neconde to other non-E and P subsidiaries of the Obijackson Group, lack of evidence (TCC) of employee tax (PAYE) remittance in Lagos and Delta State since 2012 and non- payment of 2016 13th month pay.
Other grievances are the non-payment of field allowances since August 2016, forceful and immediate transfer of union members (including pregnant women) from Lagos to Warri office with no consideration of impact on families, non-payment of transfer allowances (two months after the forceful transfer), and non-payment of severance benefit.
The management of Neconde commenced negotiation with PENGASSAN while the picketing was ongoing. The meeting was deadlocked for days while staff members proceeded on an indefinite strike until a final agreement was reached as contained in the 15-18th May 2017 communique.
The association suspended the strike on the basis of the agreement reached in utmost good faith. It said it is taken aback by the ugly development from the same management of Neconde exactly eight working days after the agreement was reached and the industrial action suspended.
Neconde Energy Limited (NEL) was incorporated in November 26, 2010 as an independent oil and gas company for the acquisition and development of petroleum assets. Neconde in partnership with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, through its subsidiary, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, jointly operates OML 42, a prolific asset within the western Niger Delta under the Asset Management Team, AMT, model.
The company’s core operations focus on the exploration and development of oil and gas assets for the purpose of production and sale of crude oil and gas stock to generate revenue.
Neconde was initially owned by 3 (one foreign and two Nigerian) pioneer shareholders with Dr. Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi owning 40 per cent of the company. Following the acquisition of an additional 40 per cent shareholding from an existing shareholder, Dr. Azudialu-Obiejesi became the controlling shareholder with 80% ownership of the company.
Following this acquisition, he purportedly integrated NEL into the Obijackson Group and NEL Senior/ Executive management has since embarked on unilateral and massive restructuring of Neconde across the entity called Obijackson Group.
But in response to the latest allegations, the company denied any wrongdoing rather it accused the affected workers of posing serious threat to its operations. Segun Fafore, Necode spokesman in reaction said the workers in question committed an act of economic sabotage and total disregard for the human lives going.
Fafore in a statement made available to LEADERSHIP said the company investigated the workers activities and the outcome revealed their involvement in vandalisation of valuable equipment, assault, abduction and hostage taking of person on Thursday, 18th May 2017 at the Jones Creek, Delta State, adding that the dastardly acts were committed against fellow employees who reported the matter to the management of the company.
“As a responsible organization, conducts like those perpetrated by these individuals are not in alignment with our organizational values and written company policy which every employee is aware of, and understands. The allegation that these individuals were victimized because of their involvement is not only baseless, but also unfounded because picketing of our office was on Monday, May 15th 2017 and a meaningful agreement was reached with the union, which resulted in speedy winding down of the picketing exercise.
So, the unpatriotic development that resulted in disengaging the employees happened days after our resolution of outstanding issues with PENGASSAN. Therefore, it was not just an act of economic sabotage, but a case of premeditated destruction our facilities, and disruption of our operations and malice against our employees. Keeping them in our employment, without doubt, constitutes a threat to the lives of other employees, whom they abducted and held hostage.
Consequently, we were left with no option, after confirming their involvements in the dastardly acts, which contravened our corporate ethos, than to let them go. We are a company working to boost the economic development of Nigeria through our activities, but when employees work against the organizational purpose and national interest, then it is not inappropriate or illegal to disengage such employees” Fafore said.
He also noted that, Nigerian courts have always upheld the sanctity of the terms freely agreed to by parties as set out in the relevant employment contract and the courts have enforced the same as binding. In the case of Chukwuma .V. Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, the Supreme Court of Nigeria upheld the Common Law principle that an employer has the right to terminate it’s employee for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. Therefore, it is inherent in every employment contract that the employer has a right to hire and fire, provided that the procedure stated in the employment agreement is duly complied with.