The Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, on Wednesday, countered the claims of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria as regards the remittance of NUPRC workers’ pensions.

PENGASSAN, through its chapter at the NUPRC, had on Tuesday, grounded activities at the headquarters of the commission in Abuja and other locations nationwide in protest of what it termed “escalating critical concerns affecting staff welfare in the commission.”

The union had, in a letter to the management of the commission, raised issues relating to pension non-remittance, non-conducive work environment, insufficient working tools, staff medicals, outstanding payments of 2023 upfront allowances, unpaid staff claims, unpaid staff on-call-allowance, and the non-payment of outsource personnel.

But in a 65-page document that was seen by our correspondent in Abuja on Wednesday, the claims of PENGASSAN were countered by the commission, particularly the aspect about the alleged non-remittance of workers’ pensions to Pension Fund Administrators.

In the document, the commission explained that obligations relating to claims made by the union had been fulfilled and efforts were already in place to achieve closure on the pending items.

It further explained the stages at which all the stated issues had been addressed to date.

The commission’s response to PENGASSAN, as captured in the document, read in part, “First of all, it (NUPRC) explained that contrary to the claims that pension deductions from staff emoluments have not been remitted to the various PFAs in line with the Pension Reform Act 2014, the commission had fully settled all pension deductions.

 “Evidence was attached to the response for the union’s attention and verification.”

 On the non-conducive work environment, the NUPRC stated that the management explained that an additional working space had been secured in Abuja, while relevant steps had been taken to fit the necessary facilities in the Port Harcourt and Lagos offices.

This, it said, was given the fact that the properties were inherited from subsidiaries of the defunct Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation in those locations when the commission was created about two years ago through the Petroleum Industry Act, 2023.

The union, the commission noted, was fully aware that as a matter of policy, computers and other working tools were procured only from accredited agents of Original Equipment Manufacturers and must follow due process under the Procurement Act 2007.

“As a result, all staff laptops are ordered under the Service Level Agreement with OEMs. In 2023, management successfully procured two batches of laptops for staff; and these have been and are still being allocated based on the priority list,” the NUPRC explained.

On medicals, the NUPRC management drew attention to all the processes taken in compliance with the official gazette of the National Health Insurance Authority Act 2022, as well as the financial implications.

It explained that the existing arrangement in the commission afforded all staff members and their wards access to accredited hospitals and bills were settled subsequently.

It further pointed out that full and comprehensive medical care, inclusive of approved overseas treatment, where required, was provided for all staff, adding that all medical expenses were scheduled for payment and were undergoing processing.

In its response to the issue of outstanding upfront allowances, the NUPRC explained that following the mop-up of unspent balances of funds in December 2022 by the Central Bank of Nigeria, as required by law, the commission started the 2023 fiscal year with a funding deficit against a zero allocation.

“With an analysis of inflow and outflow of funds from January to June 2023, management explained that since the funds available could not cover all outstanding liabilities, a decision was taken to pay workers’ entitlement in batches net of deductions.

“By June 2023, the commission had paid more than N1.5bn of the upfront cooperative deductions and the outstanding is undergoing processing for settlement in August 2023. Staff claims are undergoing processing in line with the cash flows of the commission and all staff claims have been scheduled for immediate payment on the relevant payment platform,” the upstream regulator stated.

On the on-call allowances, it referred the union to the list of those qualified for the allowance, in line with the subsisting workers’  policy, and expressed surprise that the union claimed that staff members had not been paid on-call allowances. The NUPRC insisted that all on-call allowances as of July 2023 had been fully paid.

Regarding the issue of non-payment of outsourced personnel, the commission explained that it was incumbent on the requirement of those concerned to provide documentation in compliance with the Procurement Act.

“With significant progress made in that direction, all outsourced service providers’ invoices are currently undergoing processing. Management also indicated that notwithstanding the explanations, the union should note that existing industrial relations protocol required that a grievance notice be given seven days prior to any planned or immediate disruptive action.

“It also drew attention to an ongoing intervention of the national body of the union on the issues. It was therefore surprising that in spite of all the steps taken and explanations made, the local chapter of the union staged a disruptive action at the entrance of the commission’s headquarters less than 24 hours after the submission of its letter of concern.

“The scope of the protests had all the trappings of a premeditated action which suggests that staff welfare may just have been a facade and not be the major reason behind the action; more so when some of the commentaries made by the arrowheads of the protests were extraneous to the issues contained in the union’s letter of concern to the management,” the NUPRC stated.

It further noted that since the commission commenced strategic moves to sanitise the oil and gas industry in the country, especially with the passing of some regulations to curb oil theft and losses through operational and administrative leakages, the management had come under intense pressure and harassment from some dissatisfied stakeholders using every available weapon at their disposal.

“The commission has a mandate to grow and sanitise the oil and gas industry in Nigeria under the PIA, 2021 and using global best practice; and will not succumb to any form of threats and intimidation from any quarters.

“The commission is also committed to staff welfare and will do all that is necessary within available resources to ensure that the welfare and security of staff under its employ are given deserving attention,” the NUPRC stated.

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