power and water

Negros power coop workers ready to strike over non-payment of CBA benefits

Marchel Espina
Negros power coop workers ready to strike over non-payment of CBA benefits

INDISPENSABLE. Central Negros Electric Cooperative (CENECO) crew put up cement power poles.

CENECO photo

Management admits the workers' demands are in the CBA but says it needs approval by National Electrification Administration, and asks DOLE to intervene as CENECO has a crucial role in business and governance

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The employees union of Central Negros Electric Cooperative (CENECO) on Thursday, February 3, slammed the management’s response to the demand for payment of their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signing bonus and salary hike.

Stefannie Montaner, president of the CENECO Union of Rational Employees (CURE),  said the seven-day waiting period after their strike vote would end on Monday, February 7.

She did not say if the union would announce its strike, which the membership approved 291-10 on January 29.

The CENECO Union of Rational Employees (CURE) wants the management to pay what the CBA provisions approved by the member-consumer-owners (MCOs) during the virtual CENECO Annual General Membership Assembly (AGMA) on September 26, 2021.

The proposed CBA for July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2022 included a 5% across-the-board salary increase for every two years, a P500 monthly union allowance – retroactive to January 2019 – a P15,000 signing bonus, and retirement benefits.

In a telephone interview with Rappler, Montaner expressed disappointment at the management’s decision to link CBA benefits to a 95% collection efficiency target.

“We already have 93.27% collection efficiency,” she said, “that’s why we expected the signing bonus and the 2.5% salary increase representing one half of the two-year provision.”

“They told us they will implement from February to May, but that we need to attain 95% collection efficiency,” she added.

Consumer group Power Watch Negros Advocates Inc. expressed concern that the impending strike “would paralyze the operations of CENECO.” 

Work stoppage could open 310,000 consumers to “terrible burden and inconvenience, let alone the disruption in our business, trade industry and over-all economic development in the province of Negros, if a labor strike could not be prevented,” the group said.

Waiting for NEA

The CENECO management, in a press statement, confirmed the CBA was approved last year.

But it said all of the AGMA’s resolutions require the National Electrification Administration’s (NEA) approval.

The management also cited the NEA’s advice that the firm should attain at least 95% collection efficiency before it approves the CBA of the employees union. 

The management said the current collection efficiency of CENECO is only 92%. But it also cited the effects of several local COVID-19 surges in the last year.

“The Board and Management shall definitely implement the CBA of CURE and also that of the Responsible Supervisory and Confidential Union of Employees (RESCUE) once confirmed by NEA,” the management stressed.  

“However, we shall comply with NEA’s advice on the attainment of 95% collection efficiency to ensure the financial sustainability of the Cooperative prior to its implementation. This is also to assure the MCOs that the services we provide are not affected by the implementation of the CBA,” it added.

CENECO, it added, is “presently in a tight financial situation which is compounded by high systems loss primarily caused by electricity theft/pilferages”. 

The statement said the power coop needs to pay power suppliers and transmission service providers the unpaid electric bills of the MCOs, except for the Distribution, Supply and Metering (DSM) charges, which are being shouldered first by the cooperative to avoid disconnection of power supply.

Intervention

The management said it has asked the Department of Labor (DOLE) to intervene since CENECO is a public service utility providing vital services to consumers. 

“Thus, we would like to assure the public that CENECO is taking appropriate actions on this issue,” said CENECO management.

The management is also poised to hire a contractor should the strike push through, so as not to disrupt services.

Power Watch Negros secretary-general Wennie Sancho urged  Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, former governor Rafael Coscolluela and Frank Carbon of the Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI) to convene Task Force CENECO to prevent a power crisis.

Sancho suggested both sides sign a “Manifesto for Industrial Peace” and submit the dispute to voluntary arbitration by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

That would in effect automatically enjoin the intended or impending strike, he acknowledged.

Montaner said they have not received a copy of the management’s petition to DOLE and just learned about it from news reports. – Rappler.com

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