Over 200 staff of Hospital Management Board, HMB Umuahia on Monday stormed the headquarters of the health agency and staged a protest in demand of their alleged 14-months arrears of salaries owed them by the Abia State Government.
The workers, most wearing all-black clothes, blocked one lane of the major Umuahia -Ubakala Road, drumming, singing sorrowful songs and displaying various placards during the protest.
They also clanged bells while some of them were seen weeping profusely, demanding an immediate end to their miseries.
In his address during the protest, the Chairman of the Joint Action Committee, Hospital Management Board, Abia State, Mr Echeta Chigozie explained that the protest was staged to once again draw the attention of the State and the general public to the plight of the staff, whose 14-months salaries had not been paid.
Chigozie regretted that it has become the culture of the Abia State government to see his union members crying or begging for help before it turns attention to them.
According to him, the protest would last for two days, while the workers would continue in their demands until their needs were met.
The joint health workers union chairman observed that, unlike civil servants in other departments and agencies who receive their pay, HMB workers were abandoned to their fate.
He went on to allege that the Abia State government pleaded with them to forfeit their entire 2019 salaries, with a promise to be paying them regularly in 2020, but according to him, June and August salaries were not paid, hence their decision to stage the protest.
Chigozie who equally stated that the protesting workers were drawn from the 17 government-owned hospitals in the State, added that his union had made efforts to table the matter before the Abia House of Assembly.
His words, “The government approached us sometimes ago and pleaded with us to forfeit our 2019 salaries with an assurance to be paying us regularly in 2020, but surprisingly, the government failed to pay us June and August salaries, hence our decision to down tools for Monday and Tuesday. They make sure that we cry, protest and plead profusely under the ground before our salaries are paid.
“Our salaries do not come as easy as those other workers in other departments”, Mr Chigozie lamented.
Some of the placards read: “14 months are not 14 days, pay us 14 months, not 14 days, why are we being treated like this” etc.
The staff, who wondered why the government would treat them in such bizarre manner, lamented that their families had been subjected to hunger and sickness.
The HMB, which shares a common fence with the Federal Medical Center, Umuahia, is a government medical agency regulating medical activities in various government owned medical facilities in the State.
Some of the union’s that took part in the protest included Medical health workers’ union, National Association of Nurses/ Midwifery, Amalgamated Union of Public Service Workers, Nigerian union of Allied Health Professionals, Optometrists, among others.
Reacting to the protest, the Abia State Government disowned the salary forfeiture claims by the HMB staff, stating that at no time did it engaged the workers in such negotiation, neither did it tell them to forfeit their 2019 salaries.
The Abia State government, speaking through Chief John Okiyi Kalu, Commissioner for Information, urged the public to disregard the claims as they were put together by some enemies of the government. Dr Joe Osuji, the Commissioner for health, did not pick his calls for reaction.