Workers in various Imo State ministries, agencies and parastatals, on Tuesday shutdown economic activities in Owerri, the state’s capital, in a protest over unpaid salaries and pensions allegedly spanning 23 months.
The aggrieved workers who had earlier barricaded the entrance to the Imo State House of Assembly, preventing legislators and officials from entering the premises, later moved to the Freedom Square in the heart of the city.
The workers barricaded the roads and carried placards. Some of the inscriptions read: “stop this greed and pay us our salaries”; stop this impunity, pay local government medical and health workers”; “Owelle, pay retired primary school teachers their outstanding gratuities from 1998 to date”; “Our children are dying of hunger”; “We say No to Imo State House of Assembly passing a bill on privatizing state parastatals”.
Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Austin Chilapku, and his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart, Paul Akalazu, expressed disgust at the development, lamenting that workers could be owed salaries for so long.
They further stated: “The organised labour in Imo notes with dismay the clandestine moves by the lawmakers to repeal and or amend the laws establishing parastatals for purposes of commercialising them.
“Our claims are verifiable. Workers in the state civil service are owed over 23 month’s salaries and we demand that we should be paid. Schools will soon resume and fees will be paid, rents are due and yet no salary has been paid. The workers are suffering.
“We are only asking for our right, not trying to unseat the governor; our claims are not a fluke, we have documents to support our claim.”
They noted that the state’s economy has been grounded as a result of non-payment of workers.
Reacting to the incident, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Sam Onwuemeodo alleged that the workers were being instigated to stage the protest by political opponents.
Onwuemeodo said, “It has become increasingly necessary for the state government to sincerely appeal to the organized labour to demonstrate high sense of patriotism in their actions and inactions, and avoid becoming willing tools in the hands of a few elements who do not wish the state and her people and even the government of the day well,”.
“One had expected the leaders to appreciate the concerted effort the state government has been making to totally deal with the issue of salaries and pensions. The labour leaders are also expected to show understanding, knowing what the general situation is at the moment across the nation,” he said.