Posted by Agwu Okojogho, Umuahia | 15 December 2014 | 5,297 times
A major industrial crisis looms in Abia State as the state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has threatened to embark on full-blown strike over a backlog of salary owed workers in the state.
Chairman of Abia NLC, Comrade Sylvanus Eyeh, issued the warning this morning after labour leaders had picketted the office of the state’s Accountant-General (AG), Chief Gabriel Onyendilefu.
As early as 6am, leaders of the various industrial unions, led by Eyeh, stormed the Office of the Accountant-General on Library Avanue, Umuahia, and locked all gates leading to the office. Also locked was the Michael Okpara Auditorium gate, the major gate that leads to other offices, including the Ministry of Finance and Abia State Planning Commission.
The protesting labour leaders then proceeded to School Road, where they locked the gate of the Sub-Treasury, after asking workers who had reported for duty to leave. Workers who reported for work at about 8am could not gain access to their offices as they were confronted with firmly locked gates.
The aggrieved labour leaders carried placards, some of which read: “Onyendilefu is worse than HIV/AIDS and Ebola”, “Acountant-Genocide of Abia State” and “The sins of Onyendilefu: Refusal to release Check-off dues to Union; Refusal to release subvention to parastatals; Withholding of approvals by His Excellency; Blackmailing of His Excellency; Owes several months of salaries, Onyendilefu, why?”
Addressing newsmen, Eyeh said: “Our grievances, why we are picketting the Office of the Accountant-General of Abia State, are non-payment of industrial unions for 2012/2013; non-payment of other statutory payments; all the approvals given by His Excellency for Labour, the Accountant-General has given us up to 24 appointments, yet, he has not paid it; non-payment of minimum wage arrears to parastatals; non-payment of gratuity to Abia workers; non-payment of pension to Abia workers – so many workers of Abia State are owed several months, not less than three months each.
“Workers of the Health Management Board here in Umuahia are owed about six months arrears of salaries. ASUBEB is owing teachers so many months of salaries, Abia State Teachung Hospital, Aba, is owing so many months of salaries, Abia Transport, the same; Projects implementation Unit, the same. Most of the tertiary institutions in Abia are all in arrears of salaries, then, more especially, government has decided to close the local government system. All the local governments in Abia State are in arrears of salaries. No local government is up-to-date in salary payment. We have been pleading and pleading for these workers to be paid. They will promise and promise, yet, nothing will happen.”
Eyeh expressed disgust that union dues deducted from workers’ salaries were not being remitted to labour.
He said he has personally brought the plight of the workers to the attention of Governor Theodore Orji, who directed the AG to pay labour its due, a directive he alleged the AG flouted, after paying only once.
“So, taking all these and many more into consideration, we said no, enough is enough, we should speak to government the language they will understand,” Eyeh added.
In his contribution, the Chairman of Public Service Joint Negotiating Council, Comrade Chris Okoro, lamented that over 2,000 workers paid N2,000 each for their promotion examination (Compro). Okoro said since the aurhorities collected the money, they have neither organised the exam nor refunded the affected workers. He accused the AG of being insensitive to the plight of the workers in the state.
They labour leaders vowed to lock the gates until workers and the union were paid their entitlements. According to them, if the government refuses to attend to them within three days, the protest would snowball into full-blown industrial action as workers would down tools.
In his reaction, the AG washed his hands off the allegations, stressing that he makes payments based on avaialability of funds.
Onyendilefu said he discovered that his staff at the Sub-Treasury were not remitting deductions to the NLC. Based on this, he said he held a meeting with labour and had paid the NLC N4 million last week.
The Abia AG denied flouting financial guidelines of the state, adding that if he did, the governor would have called him to order.
He pointed out that in the last five months, allocations accruing to the state have been dwindling.
•Photo shows the placard-carrying Abia labour leaders.
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