Workers in Cross River State, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, had a low key May Day celebration, following the abduction of the chairman of the state chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ben Ukpepi.
Ukpepi was kidnapped on March, 21 2021 from the Civil Servants Estate in Akpabuyo by unknown gunmen and has remained with them, more than a month after.
Chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Monday Ogbodum and the Vice Chairman of the NLC, Comrade Lawrence Achuta, in a joint statement said the sad development has made them to shelve the usual elaborate celebration of the annual workers event.
“The NLC Chairman, a man with a humble mien, who put the welfare of others before his own, a man who cannot hurt a fly, has been in the hands of his abductors for more than one month now.
“The Labour Movement in the state was dealt a deadly blow on that fateful day and here we are sorrowing instead of celebrating, agonizing and praying that wherever the evil men have taken him, he is safe.
“I want to use this occasion and in this very somber mood to charge the government and the security agencies to do all that is necessary to ensure the safe return of our Comrade, the NLC Chairman”.
While commending the achievements of the state security outfit, Operation Akpakwu, in stemming the rate of kidnapping and other criminal acts in Calabar metropolis, the labour leaders called for the extension of their operations to Akpabuyo, Bakassi and its environs.
According to them, as criminal elements have made those places their haven and equally charged the state government to do more in securing lives and property of the citizenry.
They also lamented that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a biting effect because of the massive loss of jobs in the various sectors of the economy, adding that Nigeria is facing a serious economic crunch.
On the issue of gratuity, they said:
“As you know, gratuity which is the legal entitlement to every retiree from the State service has remained unpaid from 2014 to date in the State Service and 2012 to date in the Local Government.
“We find this situation quite appalling and therefore unacceptable. Retired civil servants are dying in their numbers from preventable causes by reason of the penurious situation they have been thrown into due to non-payment of gratuities.
“Comrades, we use this auspicious occasion to call on the State Government to pay the outstanding gratuities to retirees”.
The labour leaders in the same vane, appealed to the state government to lift the suspension of automatic transition from salary payment to pension payroll from October, 2020 and also implement the promotion of workers as well as payment of the balance of the national minimum wage.
Other appeals made by the union leaders were; remittances of deductions from workers’ salaries to beneficiaries, financial autonomy to judicial and legislative arms of government, lifting of the ban on payment of union dues by commercial drivers and tricycle operators, return of motor parks to NURTW and the return of weigh-in allowances to radio, television, theater arts and paper printing workers in the state.