• ABIAPOLY staff passing through hell over 21-month salary arrears, outstanding allowances
Okey Sampson, Umuahia
The good book in 1Timothy 5:18, said: “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his reward.”
In Abia State Polytechnic (ABIAPOLY), Aba, the management appears to have turned the Bible upside-down in this wise, ascribing a different meaning to the above divine injunction. It seems a labourer is no longer worthy of his reward in ABIAPOLY.
If not, how could it be explained that a worker would toil for over 21 months without receiving his wages? As if that was not enough, those who laboured in the institution for 35 years and retired, had for 21 months and counting, not received their pensions.
The story of non-payment of workers salary in ABIAPOLY is likened to that of a man with a festering sore that has defied all remedies, getting worse when it appeared an antidote had been found.
The Education Report investigations revealed that before the former management of the institution led by Prof Ezionye Eboh came on board in February, 2017, ostensibly to “right” the wrongs of the past managements, workers were owed six months salaries. However, by 2018, it rose to 11 months and by August 2020, it has hit the 21-month mark.
The founding fathers of the institution would roll in their graves that while other polytechnics in the country are making waves in technological breakthroughs and advancement, ABIAPOLY is always on the news for the wrong reason, the most mundane thing –payment of workers salary!
A union leader who wouldn’t want his name in print claimed: “The former management they brought in February 2017 came in when we were being owed six months arrears. The state government gave them free hand to run and removed all obstacles. But they have not paid salaries. Instead, they have increased the arrears from six months to 11 months in 2018 and to now 21 months.
“I believe the founding fathers of the institution will not be happy that while other polytechnics are meeting up with the challenges of the 21st Century in terms of technological advancement, ABIAPOLY is still grappling with the payment of workers’ salary, this is embarrassing.”
The leadership of Academic Staff Unionof Polytechnics (ASUP), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) and the Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) ABIAPOLY branch said the salary arrears have taken tolls on their members.
ASUP chairman, Mr Eke Kalu, said: “Yes, our members are owed over 20 months of salary arrears. At present, we are in talks with the management on how and when the arrears will be paid. We are being owed 21 months arrears as at the end of August, it is that bad. The management has not told us they have not been receiving subventions from government. Because of that, we cannot assume they’ve not been receiving subventions from government.”
If Kalu was diplomatic in his response, another union leader who spoke anonymously was more forthcoming. He said the polytechnic management decided to punish them and their families by not paying them their 21 months’ salaries, for no just cause. He accused the institution’s authorities of diverting subventions released to the school by government for workers’ salaries to other uses.
The last time workers were paid, it was gathered, was five months ago in March this year when half salary was paid. The following month, April they were in for the worst, when a quarter of their salaries were paid.
Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu, told of how at the inception of the Okezie Ikpeazu-led administration, it settled N1billion loan the institution owed a commercial bank. He added that government has since then been paying her its monthly subventions:
“Government did this to give ABIAPOLY the financial muscle to thrive. An institution of ABIAPOLY standing ought to stand on its own financially. It should not depend on the state government wholly to pay its workers.”
A union leader who wouldn’t want his name in print said: “Last year, 258 workers were sacked. The management told us they took the action to downsize the workforce to a level they could be able to pay our salaries as and when due. But to our dismay, after the exercise, instead of the salary arrears coming down, it kept going higher and this made us to doubt the sincerity in the management’s action.”
It was gathered that within the past few months, the staff of the institution have buried three of their members who died as a result of hardship occasioned by non-payment of salary, and another one is still in the morgue.
A female worker confided in The Education Report: “We are tired of burying our members. The governing council of the institution should do something before the entire workforce of Abia Poly is wiped off.
“At least, five of our staff received quit notices from their landlords due to non-payment of rents as a result of backlog of arrears of salary owed the workers. This is very shameful.
“We can’t pay our medical bills, our children’s school fees and even give them food to eat. Yet we work everyday in this polytechnic. For that, we are saying no, they must pay us.”
Are the workers contemplating going on strike to get their demand through? No. Not for now. COVID-19 pandemic has forced the workers home. Any industrial action would have no meaningful effect. The last time Abia Poly workers embarked on strike coincided with when the institution had its matriculation.
Incessant industrial actions by workers of the institution forced a drastic reduction in the student population, thereby narrowing the revenue base of the school.This reporter’s efforts to reach the former Rector, Prof Eboh, did not yield any fruit. He did not pick calls made to his mobile line, neither did he respond to Short Message Service (sms) sent to him. On Tuesday, September 9, Governor Ikpeazu sacked Prof Eboh as rector and replaced him with Prof Kalu Osonwa.