Staff members working for the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project are angry over not seeing any movement for their hard work cleaning up Ogoni Land, and have not been paid for the better part of a year. In a public statement issued to members of the media, and which SaharaReporters also obtained, the staff members describe the details of their plight, in addition to the non-payment for their services running nearly a year and half.
It remains a complicated 17 month ordeal of the story of Shell Oil employee arrears, that the statement they issued addresses, with urgency, and where they demand public attention to a matter of deep concern.
They are the staff workers of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, known by the acronym HYPREP. It is a special project set up to implement the United Nations Environmental Program, known as the UNEP report, on Ogoni land. It is also a special intervention project that was formed back on the 21st of July 2012, by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
The staff of the HYPREP was employed at different times, but a majority was employed in 2013, and totaled one Hundred & fifty eight (158) workers in total numbers. Most of them were in paying jobs, before they resigned. Many of them had even left their jobs abroad to work for this project.
Appointment letters were given in batches, they say, and in early 2013, only thirty two members of the staff employed, had been given formal employment letters. The rest who were promised their letters were to be released in subsequent batches. However, when the Ministry of Petroleum Identity Cards were issued to them, they all had full access to work.
They worked throughout all of last year, 2013. Yet, they were paid only once, back in February of 2013. Since that time, the Shell Oil Company have been in arrears of their salaries, the workers told us, running from July through December of 2012. SaharaReporters obtained the supporting documents detailing their claims.
They were paid the 2012 salary arrears in February of 2013. Yet, there were only ninety-two, 92 staff members, who were paid.
Months had gone by since, and the workers were promised that they would soon be paid. One employee who contacted SaharaReporters told us, on the condition of anonymity, “I want to reiterate, not a single kobo has been paid since then, no palliative, or (anything) whatsoever. So, basically, we have been working without pay. All the staff have found these times very trying. Our creditors now harass us, some of us have been arrested. Some of us have lost our homes. I know of three failing marriages, first hand, from all of this. You can imagine the hardship we have gone through. Talking about seventeen months without any pay to this date.”
In January of this year, a sum of roughly N2.5 billion Naira was approved by the GMD of NNPC for their outstanding salaries of 2013, and a repayment plan was issued. The N2.5bn represented a ‘draw down’ of part of the percentage of the NNPC contribution to the One billion dollars that had been set aside to carry out the first phase of the clean up, as recommended by the UNEP.
This amount, the disgruntled workers suspect, would never have reached that amount for payment of outstanding salaries if one of the high-ranking company officials were sincere. This verification exercise was carried out months ago, they say, and up until this date they still haven’t been paid.
A group of the staff members had a recent meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum, Mr. Danladi Kifasi. It was a few they had, the most note worthy of the meetings occurred about two months ago, where they asked him to look into the matter. They also wrote a letters to other officials to settle this matter as soon as possible, appealing to their conscience but up until this moment, no word has been heard from any official.
There are unconfirmed reports that the N2.5bn released for arrears of staff salary payments, is being held by powerful interests in the Ministry, whilst we are left to suffer.
Many of the unpaid workers tell Sahara Reporters that they are suffering, hungry, even homeless, and most of all, now in debt. One of the workers who came forward said that they cannot write all that they are going through. They have asked SaharaReporters, and other media outlets, to use the power of the medium to “fight for us.” We were told that they would “provide scanned copies of all supporting evidence in our position to back up the claims we have made.”
The unpaid workers said they believe that the MD of SHELL, who are to pay a proportion of the $1bn dollars for the clean up project, has laid the blame of the lack of activity at the hands of the Ministry. They said that they suspect that this $1bn dollars would “disappear into thin air,” and the livelihood of all staff who have given their lives, and lost so much in the course of this project, would not be taken care of. They say that they “need action now.” In speaking to the media in what is a largely unreported story, the unpaid workers want to make the world know what they are going through, and help put pressure on the ministry, and other officials, to pay us our salaries.