Stop the impending nationwide strike now – Health Workers

Helen Shok Jok. Abuja

Unless authorities concerned nib the situation in the bud, Nigerians may be unable to access medical care from public hospitals and facilities nation-wide beginning midnight of Thursday, tenth of March.

The Joint Health Workers Union of Nigeria JOHESU has threatened to down tools to press home its demand for the implementation of some agreements signed between it and the government.

JOHESU has urged the federal government to address what it called the unfair management practice in the health sector.

The Chairman JOHESU, Biobelemoye Josiah made the call in Abuja in an exclusive interview with Voice of Nigeria. He said unless government addresses the issues and also takes steps to implement agreements already signed with the body, health workers will have no choice but to embark on a nationwide industrial action.

Some of the contending issues include alleged privatisation of health facilities, welfare of members and adjustment of their special salary structure.

JOHESU said it will reluctantly declare the industrial action after shifting it twice because it is fully aware of what the impact of a strike action on the health sector will do to Nigerians.

“It was because we have serious concern for the impact on the people of Nigeria, that is the hallmark of JOHESU. Even before me, my predecessor now President when he was leading JOHESU. In 2014, he had to shift strike ten times to the extent that the followership was beginning to think otherwise….but because the concern for the people is paramount, because we know that when we go on strike and lives are lost, we cannot bring them back, that is why we are trying our best to see how we can avoid a strike at all cost,” Biobelemoye said.

Speaking on the bone of contention of the health workers agitation, the JOHESU President said that the issues were numerous, but top on the agenda is the is the unfair management in the health system. In his words, “well the issues are numerous but top on the chart bothers on the unfair management in the health system which of course is the key thing and that is what has been causing disharmony in the system, and the disharmony is the reason why health service is not getting out to the people the way it should be. It’s not about the dearth of skilled man power, it’s not about the absence to deliver, but it’s just the management. For instance even before this government came to power, we advised that under no circumstance should the management of the health system be put in the hands of one group, because once there, they will also use it to create the turbulence in fact avoidable turbulence…,” he said.

Mr Biobelemoye Josiah said he and his predecessors spotted some shortfalls in the previous Incomes and Wages presentation and so on request, the Incomes and Wages Commission provided the necessary adjustments for the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure CONMESS since 2012 but failed to do same for the Consolidated Health Salary Structure CONHESS, saying that the health workers waited patiently since then but according to him, government was using the excuse that “it was not captured in the 2015 budget or that it was because of the complexity, it covers so many people, we were not able to arrive at one thing or the other, but with the intervention of the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, when we went on strike after shifting for eleven times and we were compelled to go on strike in November 2014, and when Mr President intervened in February, we now suspended the action. From that February when it was suspended, they promised it will be included in the 2015 budget, it was not included…”, he said.

Lamenting the lingering situation, the JOHESU Chairman, said considering that there is a new government in the country, JOHESU gave it time to settle down and even held a meeting with the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewale who assured the Union that his mission is to unify the heath sector, and having listened to the presentation of the health workers, promised to set up a committee to address the issues raised before they get to crisis point.

According to the JOHESU Chairman who is also the President, Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria MHWUN, “up to the period the Union gave the first fifteen days ultimatum to the government with a reminder via a letter after six weeks till now, no committee has been set up to address the issues raised with the Minister of Health.”

Other issues JOHESU is putting on the table insisting that government must address is the Industrial Court ruling in its favour over CONHESS skipping just like any other salary structure where a level is skipped “the matter was taken to the Industrial Court which ruled in favour of JOHESU, but the court order is yet to be obeyed”, Biobelemoye said.

The Union also wants the government to address what it called the double loyalty of medical doctors where they will be in the employment of the government and also running their own private hospitals. It believes that if this is checked, it will reduce the anomalies in the management public health institutions in the country.