From PETER OKORE, Umuahia
As the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, less than one week ago, called off nationwide strike it embarked-on to press home demands for improved welfare for members , Staff of Abia state Hospitals Management Board (HMB) same day (Thursday,15th September,2020) staged a protest by besieging and blocking the front- gate leading into the premises of the Board, demanding payments of their 14 months unpaid salaries from the state government.
A statement by the National President, Dr Aliyu Sokomba explained that the strike had been called off after reaching agreement with the Federal Government. He however said that “discussion continued with the Federal Government on other issues affecting the resident doctors.
But the protesting workers of Abia HMB carried placards, some of which read: ” Pay us our 14 months Arrears of salary; HMB staff are dying; All we are saying is pay us our salaries; 14 months is not 14 days!”
Speaking to newsmen in Umuahia, the chairman of the Hospital Unions, comprising Doctors Association, Medical Health workers Union, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwifery, Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals and Amalgamated Union of Public Service and Civil Service Technical and Recreational Employees , Comrade Echeta Chigozie, explained that they were agitating for their 14 months unpaid salary.
He revealed that Abia state government had, in one of the meetings, appealed to the Health workers to forfeit the whole of 2019 salaries, but assured that government would begin to pay them full and regular salaries from this year 2020. He regretted that government had failed to pay them their July and August 2020 salaries, which he said led to the protest.
In the words of Comrade Chigozie, “the most painful expect is that before any payment members of this our body are subjected to pains before we are paid. We must cry, raise alarm, plead to government to pay us our hard-earned salaries. Our salaries , whenever paid, do not come as easy as other workers and we are pained about it.
“We have gone to the State House of Assembly to lay their complaint, but nothing meaningful has come out of that mission. All we keep hearing is that there is no money. Government stopped giving subvention to the Health Management Board since 2015. Our children can no-longer go to school or get adequate medical treatments whenever they fall sick.”.
Chigozie further revealed that facilities and equipments in the 17 existing hospitals across the state are not functioning well as expected despite the fact that they(the workers) are expected to provide essential services.
Attempts to get any top official of HMB to talk to newsmen fell on deaf-ears as the security men on duty at the gate were alive to their responsibilities and instructions, not to allow anybody into the premises for fear of obvious consequences.
But in a Radio announcement, the state commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu denied the allegation that the state government called on the Health workers in the state to forfeit their 14 months salary arrears. He said adequate modalities were in place on how Government parastatals should pay salaries to their workers.