By NewsCritic reporters
As the organised labour in Abia State and the state government continue with the diatribe over the seven-days ultimatum handed down to the government within which to pay outstanding salaries arrears owed workers or face industrial action, the NLC will tomorrow Wednesday, August 15, 2019 hold a crucial meeting to decide on the next line of action as the ultimatum expires.
The NewsCritic gathered that the meeting will deliberate on the ongoing face-off with the Abia state government as it relates to the payment of workers’ salaries and also review the situation of things before the ultimatum expires.
Sources disclosed that except the state government comes up with concrete plans to pay the salaries arrears to workers the organised labour is ready for a showdown with government. “I can tell you that the organised labour in Abia state is ready to confront this government of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu over the non-payment of workers’ salaries. We have given them enough time to fulfil their promises but they have failed, so we don’t have any option than to call for indefinite strike action at the expiration of the ultimatum”, said source who spoke on the condition of identity protection.
The ultimatum was contained in a statement jointly issued in Umuahia on Friday August 10, 2019 by the NLC, Joint Negotiating Council and Trade Union Congress. The group said that the ultimatum was a prelude to an impending strike. It warned that labour should not be held responsible “for any breach of industrial peace and harmony in the state,” should government fail to address their concerns at the expiration of the ultimatum.
“A labourer deserves his wages,” it stated, adding that the organised labour was not satisfied with the “sectoral pattern of payment of workers’ salaries in the state since the inception of the present administration.
According to a list of the arrears released by the group, primary school teachers were owed three months, while secondary school teachers were last paid in October 2018. Others include Hospital Management Board (11 months); Abia State Universal Basic Education Board (four months); Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba (13 months) and Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, last paid in April 2018, plus partial payment in May, the same year. The organised labour said that while the senior staff of the College of Health Science, Aba, were owed nine months, their junior counterparts were owed eight months. Also, Abia College of Education (Technical), Arochukwu were owed 18 months, Abia State University, Uturu (four months); local government workers last paid in March, plus half salary in October 2018.
The rest were State Education Management Board (SEMB) (eight months); Agricultural Development Programme (14 months), Ministries of Agriculture and Lands, Survey and Urban Planning, one month, respectively.
Labour also said that some agencies of government, including the state Library Board, secondary school teachers, SEMB and Abia Council for Arts and Culture were owed arrears of the N18,000 minimum wage, ranging from 10 to 14 months. It regretted that while the 2017 leave allowances were partially paid, the 2018 and 2019 allowances had yet to be paid.
It further expressed concern over the government’s failure to pay pensions as and when due, adding that only a few pensioners were paid in November 2017. It also said that retired civil servants were last paid gratuity in 1999, saying that the development was tantamount to “mercy killing.”
However, the Abia state government in a statement issued by the commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu said Abia State Government is not owing workers in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the state any salary. According to him, statutorily, these are the workers paid directly by the state government who constitute more than 70% of the state workforce.
Okiyi stressed that details of the management of CBN bailout funds and Paris Club Refund to Abia State is within the public domain, and urged NLC Chairman, Comrade Obigwe, who was a prominent member of the committee that distributed the funds to publicly give account of how he and other members shared the funds to defray unpaid wages.
According to the commissioner, “Obigwe, who is now pretending to be championing the cause of pensioners and some parastatals also vehemently opposed the proposal by the state government to the committee that more resources be allocated to pension payments and some of those parastatals. We invite him to explain the basis of that his stance to the public.
“While acknowledging that we have unpaid salaries with secondary school teachers, it is important to state that it is not true that they have continuously not been paid since October 2018. In December 2018, February 2019, March 2019, May 2019 and in June 2019 when they received two months’ arrears, we verifiably made payments to secondary school teachers.
He disclosed that the public posturing of the NLC State Chairman, Obigwe, leading to his brazen misleading of the public on salaries issues has to do with the ongoing labour politics aimed at removing the chairman.
He stated that Obigwe was due for retirement from the state civil service in 2016 but following appeals he made to the government on the need for him to extend his services to support the then nascent administration he was granted 2 years’ extension which expired in 2018.
“His subsequent request for further extension was turned down because of the need to discontinue a policy that has stunted the growth of young workers.
“Apparently, the well thought out decision of the Government not to further extend the services of those whose time have since expired did not go down well with him and since then he has continued to show signs of bitterness against the administration. To be re-elected as state NLC Chairman, he had to manipulate the system to claim that he was a staff of the health workers’ union (without being a civil servant) and that claim is now the subject of litigation by his opponent in that 2019 NLC election. He apparently holds the government responsible for his travails, especially since all his attempts to get the government involved in the internal affairs of the state NLC, in his favor, failed, especially as the issue is now in court.