Concessioning: Okorocha, workers’ six-hour parley deadlocked
• Unions insist on payment of salary arrears, pensions • Governor pleads for understanding
A fresh industrial crisis may be looming in Imo State, following the inability of Governor Rochas Okorocha and leaders of various labour unions to reach understanding regarding the decision to concession at least 20 of its parastatals and agencies.
The Guardian learnt that Okorocha spent more than six hours at the Government House, Owerri, with officials of the unions, permanent secretaries and other top government officials trying to convince labour leaders to see reasons behind government’s decision.
But labour officials disagreed with government’s position, insisting that workers be paid full arrears of owed salaries and advising the state to put the plan on hold.
Imo State Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Austin Chilakpu, and his counterpart in the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Paul Akalazu, told journalists at the end of the meeting that they were concerned about payment of over nine months of salary arrears before they can negotiate on concessioning of state agencies.
They advised the state to explore other avenues of generating revenue instead of concessioning parastatals and agencies.
It would be recalled that Okorocha, last week, directed that the 27 General Hospitals and Health centres in various local councils and other agencies in the state be concessioned, citing low productivity and overbearing wage bill, among others.
Chilakpu said: “Before an agreement, government and labour should have an agreement. We are still pleading with Okorocha to pay workers’ salaries. If he had paid as and when due, this would not have affected them. The issue of payment of workers’ salaries is not part of negotiation. If salaries are paid, we can then discuss. How can a hungry man negotiate? Workers are hungry.”
According to Akalazu: “Labour maintains that it wants salaries paid before any other thing. We did not agree with Okorocha. We are saying the parastatals, for now, are not ripe for concessioning. There are procedures to do all of those. We need to sit down with him and analyse them point -by- point. Pensioners have not received anything for months now.”
The governor, on his part, is insisting that the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS), and Consolidated Health Medical Workers Salary Structure (CONHESS) have been milking the state dry. He contended that workers on those categories earn far more than was approved, leading to disparity between them and core civil servants.