By O’star Eze
Joint Health Sector Unions and Assembly of Healthcare Professionals (JOHESU) have issued a 15 day strike notice to the federal government which commenced on January 15.
This implies that if the federal government does not attend to their demands by January 31, 2019, members of this group will commence on an indefinite strike.
According to the dispatch copy of the notice, addressed to the Honourable Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, and made available to this correspondent, JOHESU recalled that they had suspended their strike action on May 30, 2018 after having been assured that the federal government would attend to their demands.
The group however claimed that the federal government was yet to make good their promise which informed their recent resolve to go on nationwide industrial action following the notice.
It would be recalled that JOHESU is the umbrella body that unites Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAM), Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and Non-academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutes (NASU).
Among the issues the group wants addressed is the upward adjustment of CONHESS salary structure; unjustified withholding of the salaries of JOHESU members for the month of April and May, 2018; headship of hospital departments; non-promotion of members on CONHESS 14-15 as directors in some federal health institutions and implementation of consultancy cadre to their members.
Reacting to the development, Dr Stanley Kenechi Onah said that the JOHESU was an organization set up to promote inter communal rivalry between medical doctors and other health workers.
He said that the amalgamation called JOHESU was set up to spit medical doctors and clamour for equal pay with medical doctors. He however noted that the problem is not easy to solve given that if the FG complies with JOHESU demands, it would be “an insult on the sensitivity of medical doctors and trigger another round of protests.”
Onah observed that the FG is between the devil and the deep blue sea over the matter and enjoined the FG to take a more decisive position on the matter and sustain their position.
“The strategy of buying time employed by the FG is only palliative and would not solve the problem. JOHESU should respect the hierarchy in the medical profession and stop seeking to receive equal remuneration and conditions of service with medical doctors who spend more time in their training and have higher job demand,” he said.
Speaking on the effect of the strike action if it holds, Onah said that strike action would not be the best thing to do given its negative effects, but added that doctors have always resorted to engaging ad-hoc staff when such situations arise.
On the way forward, Dr Onah advised the Federal Government to call for a health summit that would encompass all the medical workers where all the aggrieved bodies would air their grievances and international best practices employed in attending to the conditions of service of all health workers.
Onyinye Mbamalu, a principal medical laboratory scientist and a member of JOHESU decried what he called the marginalization of health workers by medical doctors and the government.
Mbamalu said that all JOHESU is asking for is the reversal of the “lopsided” policy made by late Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti in 1986, when he was the minister for health.
He frowned at the conjecture by some medical practitioners that JOHESU members are seeking equal remuneration with doctors noting that all JOHESU is demanding for is a “bridge of the wide gap between the conditions of service of doctors and other health workers.”
Citing example he said, “While doctors are paid 100 per cent of their salary equivalent as their hazard allowance, other health workers receive 5 per cent of their basic salary. That is preposterous given that other health workers are even more exposed to work hazards than the doctors.”
He said that the members of JOHESU were hard hit during their previous strike action with the declaration of the no-work; no pay policy but that they are presently better equipped for such eventuality. He regretted the “catastrophic effect it would have on patients” adding that all JOHESU is asking for is equity and better work condition. Mbamalu also recommended a health summit as an effective way of attending to the ongoing problem.
On his part, Henry Duru, an educationist and social analyst traced the threat of industrial action as well as other agitations by other labour unions to the insincere way previous administrations had been handling the demands of labour unions. He recommended more sincerity on the part of the minister of labour and restraint on the part of JOHESU.
“Let the threat of strike action be the joker JOHESU should wield but never play. They should follow the path of negotiation and remember that labour activism requires public sympathy to be effective, which public sympathy they would lose if they go on strike and leave patients vulnerable,” he advised.