Outrage as Bayelsa govt withholds staff salaries

Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson
Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson

The Bayelsa State Government has announced the suspension of salaries of hundreds of workers, sparking outrage amid fears of a mass sack.

The government said “excess staff” were being considered for “redeployment”, but staff unions, including the Nigerian Union of Journalists, said at least 222 their members in the state radio and newspaper had been fired.

A memo signed by the head of service, Thomas Zidafomo, addressed to general manager of Bayelsa Newspaper Corporation, said the exercise was part of an ongoing public service reforms meant to eliminate endemic employment racketeering and payroll fraud.

The letter directed the management of the two media outlets to withhold and remit April salaries of affected workers to a special account at the accountant general’s office.

The letter showed that 86 staff of New Waves Newspaper and 136 workers from the Radio Bayelsa were affected from the list so far released.

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“The Governor set up a committee to formulate an overall policy on staffing and funding of these parastatals in the state,” the letter said.

“Based on the recommendation of that committee, the government has directed that excess staff be deployed away from these parastatals with effect from April 2018.

“You are directed to notify the affected staff of this decision and deposit their monthly salaries in the State Unpaid Salary Account at the Office of Accountant-General commencing with April 2018.

“The affected staff should be advised to present themselves to the Committee on Screening of Staff to verify their area of professional competence for deployment exercise,” the head of service stated.

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Last year, the government said it had withheld the October salary of 4,202 civil servants suspected to be involved in irregularities.

The new decision has seen apprehensive staff accuse the government of plotting to sack them, dismissing its claim of redeploying excess workers.

The mood amongst workers at the Bayelsa State Secretariat on Wednesday was gloomy and tense as workers discussed the development.

Although most of the civil servants were reluctant to make comments on the policy for fear of victimization, some of the affected workers faulted the process adopted by the state government.

“What makes this one suspicious is the issue of retrenchment before giving employers the chance the justify their expertise,” one government journalist said.

“I am a reporter and my name was listed and I was asked to meet a committee to prove my professional competence for redeployment when my name has been expunged from the payroll, is that not a sack?

“The labour ethics gives the employer the right to hire and fire so if they must fire us, why not do it procedurally which will take care of end of service benefits rather than this approach ?” another staff asked.

Tari Dounana, who is the chairman of the Bayelsa chapter of Trade Union Congress, said the labour movement in the state was worried about the suspension of workers’ salaries.

“We are following the developments with keen interest on the impact of the reforms on the workforce and it should be done in line with labour guidelines; the redeployment of workers does not have to involve stopping salaries,” he said. “We are looking at the issue with a view to making a statement on the exercise.”

A statement issued by the state NUJ, signed by its chairman, John Angese, and secretary, Stanley Imgbi, said the unions and affected establishments were not privy to the exercise.

The union said the government’s decision to withhold salaries was indicative the workers had been sacked.

The NUJ argued that the parameter for determining the desired staff strength was not specified and was shrouded in secrecy.

It said the seizure of salaries of the affected staff showed that the exercise was not redeployment as claimed by the government.

Editor’s Note: This report has been updated with clearer details of the positions taken by the Bayelsa government and its workers.

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