Workers’ strike looms in Abia

Boniface Okoro, Umuahia

A labour leader in Abia State has warned that the state government may plunge the state into industrial crisis if it continues to delay clearing backlog of salaries of workers and pensioners.

Comrade Christopher Uche Ezekiel, in a chat with News Express in Umuahia, said it amounted to insensitivity on the part of government to continue delaying paying workers and pensioners in the state even when the N10.6 billion Paris Club In-flow fund was in the coffers of the government.

Ezekiel, Abia State Chairman of the United Labour Congress (ULC), an emerging labour union, queried why it was taking ages for the government to commence payment of the salary arrears when it was clear that the workers and pensioners proceeded on the Christmas and New Year festivities without salaries.

“My concern is that during this Christmas and New Year celebrations, there was no food on Abia workers’ table. They couldn’t provide ordinary clothing for members of their families even when money has been released to clear the arrears owed them.

“If workers are really partners in progress with government, the government should be able to attend to our needs,” Ezekiel said.

“If the Federal Government had not provided the money, it would have been a different thing. But now that they have released money to offset these arrears, we expect the government to pay the workers their salaries and pensions.

“When government fails to do this, we will call the workers out to the streets and we will embark on industrial action. We will ask workers not to go to work until the outstanding salaries and pensions are cleared,” he vowed, stressing that the Paris Club refund must be committed to the purpose for which it was released.

It would be recalled that when the Abia State got its share of the Paris Club refund last month, the Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, invited labour leaders from Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress, the Joint Negotiating Council and Pensioners Union, among others, to a meeting where an agreement was reached that half of the N10.6 billion would be dedicated to payment of arrears of salaries and pensions.

Furthermore, the Governor, on December 30, 2016, sought and got the permission of the House of Assembly to spend the money on specified items.

“I hereby seek the resolution of the honourable House approving expenditure of the said fund as follows:

*N5,315,662,620.48 for arrears of salaries and pensions

*N1,771,887,420.16 for roads

*N2,657,831,130.24 for bridges

*N685,943,710.08 for hospitals

*N200,000,000 for street lighting,” a letter from the governor to the lawmakers read in part.

•UCL National President, Comrade Joe Ajaero.

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