Simon Utebor, Yenagoa
Health workers and local government employees in Bayelsa State have suspended their three-month strike on Thursday.
The workers had embarked on the industrial action three months ago in protest against non-payment of their salaries by their various LGAs.
The council workers at a meeting of the Joint State Executive Council consisting of the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees and the Medical and Health Workers’ Union unanimously agreed to suspend the strike in the state.
The unions in a communique signed after their meeting by the NULGE’s state Chairman, Mr. Akpos Ekiegha, and the Secretary, Mr. Peace Chukwu, directed all the workers to resume work on October 16.
The unions in the document, which was also signed by state Chairman and Secretary, MHWUN, Mr. James Adama and Letam Nwibani, respectively, called on the government to work out modalities to gradually settle the salary arrears of workers ranging from seven to 15 months.
They said the decision to resume work was taken after reviewing the efforts of the state Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd.) and the Commissioner for Local Government Administration, Dr. Agatha Goma, in facilitating regular payment of salaries and some of the arrears during the strike.
They called on the Local Government Service Commission and the Ministry of Local Government Administration to urgently work out ways of funding the Local Government Pension Board in order to address the pension challenges in the state.
The unions said, “To achieve this, we candidly advised that a committee of critical stakeholders be urgently inaugurated to properly verify all pensioners.
“As the current retirement exercise is reducing wage bills of the council, it is our expectation that part of the funds realised from the retirement be channeled to the pension board to guarantee regular payment of at least the monthly pension.”
They further lauded Governor Seriake Dickson for personally intervening to resolve the plight of primary school teachers by approving monthly funding of their salary deficit.
“This will obviously bring about a sigh of relief to the eight councils and ultimately guarantee regular payment of salaries not only for the council workers but also primary school teachers to restore industrial peace,” they said.
They said the issue that led to the July 24, 2017 strike was caused by the crisis of irregular payment of workers’ salaries which resulted in accumulated arrears.
They said their decision to embark on the industrial action was also informed by the government’s withdrawal from participating in the payment of primary schoolteachers.
The unions added, “This development adversely affected the councils in the smooth discharge of their salary obligations to workers. The consequence was the introduction of alternate salary payment between council workers and primary school teachers one month after the other.
“This was in spite of relevant constitutional provisions and precedents set by previous administrations and sustained by the government to the extent that government was initially taking 83 per cent and subsequently 60 per cent responsibility of the primary school salary bill up to December, 2015.”