By Sam Oditah
Umuahia – Angry workers of the Abia Hospitals Management Board (HMB), on Monday barricaded the main gate to their office complex to protest against the state government’s inability to pay their outstanding 14 months’ salary arrears.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports that the protesters, who displayed placards with different inscriptions, also closed one lane of the Aba Road, Umuahia, near the office building.
Some of the inscriptions read: “14 months Arrears of salary: HMB staff are dying,” “All we are saying, pay us our salaries,” and “14 months is not 14 days,” among others.
The protesting unions included the Medical Health Workers Union, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwifery, Amalgamated Union of Public and Civil Service Workers, Technical and Recreational Employees, and Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals, among others.
The Chairman of the Joint Action Committee of the unions, Mr Echeta Chigozie, said the protest was precipitated by their unpaid arrears of salary for 14 months.
Chigozie said that government appealed to them to forfeit the entire 2019 salaries and assured them that they would begin to pay them regularly from 2020.
“Surprisingly, government failed to pay July and August salaries, hence our decision to down tools for Monday and Tuesday.
“The most painful experience is that we are subjected to psychological pains before we are paid.
“They make sure that we cry, protest and plead profusely with the government before our salary is paid.
“Our salary does not come so easy as those for workers in other departments and agencies of government in the state,” Chigozie said.
He expressed regret that on several occasions, the group had taken its protest to the House of Assembly for its intervention “to no avail.”
“All they keep telling us is that there is no money,” he said, adding that government stopped giving subventions to the board since 2015.
Chigozie said that all the 17 hospitals under the board lacked basic facilities to function.
According to him, the facilities in our hospitals are not functional, even though we provide essential services cross the state.
“From time to time, our children are sent out from school over unpaid school fees. We cannot pick our bills,” he said.
When contacted for government’s reaction on the matter, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Joe Osuji, said that only the Commissioner for Finance, Mr Aham Uko, had the prerogative to speak on the matter.
Efforts made to speak with Uko were unsuccessful as he could not pick calls made to him.
However, the Commissioner for Information, Chief Kalu Okiyi, said that government did not agree with any labour union to forfeit the salary arrears of its members.
Okiyi said that agencies and parastatals of government were expected to generate their own revenues and that government was only obliged to paying their subventions.