Irrespective of the near rumpus that would have marred last Friday’s meeting between select group of civil servants and the governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, over lingering issue of unpaid salaries, most of those who graced the venue of the Owerri interactive session left the place gleefully.
The gaiety exhibited by the workers was in contrast to their earlier starry moods and gloom that heralded the entrance of the governor to the venue as well as the lack of hilarity that greeted Okorocha’s interaction with the worker.
Irrespective of what transpired, the jigsaw puzzle between the workers and Okorocha was solved thereby, leaving the organized labour in happy state.
The recent travails of workers in Imo State, similar to what is obtained in some states, began before the final leg of the 2015 general election, when it became impossible for the state to honour its monthly obligation to civil servants and pensioners. The situation turned awry when months ended and surprisingly nothing called salaries came forth from government again. Even local government areas, LGA, workers who had regular allocations direct from the federal allocations were worse hit as they were skipped from the monthly payroll despite the huge millions that entered their various LGA cash vaults.
Ominous signals that Okorocha’s second term may not be workers, friendly tenure showed when the take-home monthly pay of some workers in the LGA especially, those in the agriculture and health departments were slashed. In the state ministries, those of the judiciary, agriculture, health and Imo State House of Assembly fought a battle of their lives to impede government renewed efforts to reduce their total pay package through removal of certain enhanced payments already enjoyed by the workers before this era.
Okorocha was further accused by the workers of trying to use a legal framework of the House of Assembly, to make real his threat of salary cut. After the initial one week warning strike to protest unpaid salaries, the second part of their action that grounded Owerri was the mother of all protests challenging the proposed privatization of parastatals and attempts to use the instrument of the state legislature to put a stop to the some pay packages received by categories of workers in some government ministries, agencies and departments.
However, the recent interface between Okorocha and the workforce at the old Ahiajoku centre may have instituted a truce. The armistice came as a result of the expected arrival of the much awaited bailout from the federal government. I don’t want to sojourn more on the bailout issues which have generated enough controversy in Imo State. But I wish to state that what have preoccupied the minds of the workers is that the money has arrived and their outstanding salary arrears will be paid from this week. The cheering news diminishes previous rhetoric that had sadden and dampened hope of the workers in the previous months.
Apart from the reported intransigent posture of the governor who rattled the workers during the meeting, those present left the venue without ascertaining the total amount made available to the state for the bailout as Okorocha did not pronounce any figure at the end of the deliberations. The non disclosure of the figure resurrected instant discomfort among the organised labour and workers present.
Another disturbing trend is the set up of bailout fund implementation committee, comprising of career politicians and government aides. While the silence on the amount appears incriminating, the involvement of politicians raises suspicion that politicians have waded into civil servant matters again.
Though, grapevine sources revealed that the bailout is about N26.8bn, it is pertinent to note that the total amount owed workers in the state including the pensioners who it was learnt are allegedly not accommodated according to the scheme of work given to the bailout committee under the leadership of the Chief Of Staff to the governor, Uche Nwosu. In the new spirit of accountability and zero tolerance for corruption being propagated by the new administration at the centre, how funds and allocations made available to the state should be in public and of masses interest.
The plot to exclude retirees who are the worst hit in Imo State in the unpaid salaries debacle is not in tandem with the motive behind the bailout even when the amount that the state will receive, according to dependable sources within government circle, will cater for their pay packages. Many reason that if the bailout is for workers salaries, the pensioners should not be left out since they are party to the system and their unpaid allowances and pensions constitute part of the debt owed to workers.
The fate of parastatals` workers whose job security are threatened should the privatization agenda sails through are also hanging in the balance. The question oozing from many lips in the state is whether their backlog of their salaries running into seven to nine months arrears will be cleared with the bailout fund? Regrettably, workers in government agencies like the Imo Transport Company, ITC, Adapalm now called Imo Palm, Health Management Board, HMB, Imo Water Corporation, Imo Job Centre, Due Process, et al are owed not less than seven months salary arrears, according to records endorsed by the organised labour to newsmen.
On a final note, there are heightened fears in several quarters that the composition of a bailout committee made up of government appointees and office holders in the past invariably may turn out to be “job for the boys” again, if the identities of the career politicians are anything to go by. A cursory overview of the team led by Nwosu indicates that their inclusion is a certified political patronage by Okorocha as majority are party soulmates in the APC fold. Hopefully, it is expected that the bailout fund will be judiciously managed to end government skirmishes with civil servants and pensioners than turning the exercise as a “tea party” for the committee.