There may be imminent strike by various cadres of the working class of Imo citizenry and the bulk of retired Imo workers, who have been denied their salaries and pensions for the past three (3) months as well as some groups of labour unions who have severally cried for their check-off dues usually deducted at source and remitted to the unions coffers for some time now.
If not the disruption and dislocation brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, workers in Imo state would have been on strike by now, but feelers from various labour unions in the state suggest that industrial action is still very much on the cards once work resumes fully.
It was learnt that the industrial action being mooted by workers is as result of the alleged orchestrated plot by the Hope Uzodinma government to muzzle labour unions in the state with the intention to financially the castrate them and make them incapable of protecting and fighting for rights of workers.
The government labour sources indicated to this newspaper has shown clear signs of unwillingness and unreadiness to pay legitimate and constitutional entitlements of workers-like salaries, pensions and other allowances. And to stave off industrial unrests and strikes, it has equally come up with the policy of withholding labour unions check off dues so as to suffocate them financially and stop them from speaking and fighting against anti workers policies and actions of the administration.
Media investigation revealed that these allegations really seem true because apart from salary and pensions which remain unpaid the government has stubbornly refused to release various labour unions check off dues since it assumed office in January.
Findings further showed that the directive not to pay was handed down to the Accountant General of the State, Sir Val Obieze by Governor Hope Uzodinma as labour sources disclosed to this newspaper that Sir Obieze has bluntly told them the Governor instructed him not to release the check off dues.
A high ranking official of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, who spoke on the non-payment of check off dues to the union described it “as an aberration of the laws of the land and against existing labour laws”.
According to him labour is on the exclusive legislative list which places it under the control and regulation of the Federal Government and not state. Similarly, he opined that union dues are enshrined in the Trade Unions (amendment) Act 2005, page 1 NO 3, Sub 16A which stipulates that once a union is registered and recognized as specified in the third schedule of the Labour Act, an employer shall make deductions from the wages of every worker who is a member of any union for the purpose of paying contributions to the registered union.
He also revealed that the same law mandated the remittance of such deductions to the union within a reasonable period or, such period as maybe prescribed from time to time by the union registrar. According to him, the non remittance of their legitimate dues is hampering the rendering of services to their members as well as payment of salary to their own workers for almost six months now.
He pointed out that the most worrisome is that the governor seems to be deliberately withholding their check off dues going by the declaration of the Accountant General that he (Governor) told his office not to pay unions’ check off dues.
On his part a member of National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE who craved anonymity corroborated the position of his ASCSN colleague. The NULGE official said apart from payment of salary which is being paid haphazardly whereby some workers have received March and April whereas some are yet to receive February and March, the union has not got one kobo as check off dues.
He noted that the national body of NULGE and Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC President Ayuba Wabba recently held a teleconference with Gov Uzodinma and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole over the matter and salary of local government workers.
The refusal of the government to give NULGE its due^ he pointed out is seriously affecting its operations and that of its branches and the national office all of which get some percentage from the check off dues. According to him, the national office of NULGE takes 35%, state 35%, branches 20% and NLC 10%
Continuing, the official stressed that from their analysis especially based on the above issue and recent alleged punitive transfer of State Administrative Council, SAC and State Executive Council, SEC members by government, it has become clear that government is trying to muzzle labour unions in the state.
While the problem of check off dues rages, payment of monthly salary and pension to workers still remains a burning issue. Teachers in the state primary and secondary schools are yet to receive March, April and May salaries.
In the same vein, Imo State University, Imo Polytechnic and parastatals are still wallowing on empty stomach from months of unpaid salary. It was learnt however that the workers of IBC have received two months of the four months owed them amid cries of high deductions of up to twenty thousand naira from the workers salaries.
When reached for comments the Imo State Chairman of the NLC, Comrade Austin Chilakpu, said NLC is aware of the issue of check off dues. He, however, said it seems NLC is keeping quiet, because it wants to ensure that the issue of lingering salary is sorted out before addressing the problem of check off dues.
In his own reaction, the Accountant General, Sir Obieze said the power to pay is in the Governors hands and that the unions should meet with him and sort out issues, stressing that his office is at the moment focused on payment of salaries and pensions.