Health Workers Declare Indefinite Strike Nationwide

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  • Say we can’t stop Buhari from seeking medical treatment abroad

Paul Obi in Abuja

The Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) Wednesday declared a nationwide indefinite strike to press home their demands for improved working conditions and adjustment of salary structure.

The nationwide strike declared by the umbrella body of health workers in the country came days after President Muhammadu Buhari left Nigeria to seek medical attention in the United Kingdom.

The departure of President Buhari in the middle of a warning strike by health workers had drawn anger and condemnation from Nigerians over the federal government’s inability to fix the country’s worsening healthcare system.
Observers had also questioned the credibility and honesty of the president given his 2014 elections campaign promise to stem out medical tourism, which reports indicate cost Nigeria about $1 billion annually.
The indefinite strike also came after talks and negotiations with the federal government finally collapsed yesterday.
Speaking with journalists in Abuja on the strike, JOHESU President, Biobelemoye Josiah, explained that the strike was prompted by government’s blatant refusal to implement the agreement it reached with the union on September 30, 2017, on adjustment of salary structure.

He said: “JOHESU had been on a nationwide strike to press home our demand since April 18, 2018, at the Tertiary Health Institutions levels, especially, the upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Structure.

“This strike was earlier limited to the Tertiary Health Institutions, thinking that Government shall be honourable to implement the signed the memorandum of Terms of Settlement of September 30, 2017.

“On the issue of CONHESS adjustment, which we regard as the flagship of our demands, government in 2014 granted CONMESS adjustment to medical doctors and immediately two months arrears while other months were spread.”

Josiah, who was accompanied by JOHESU secretary, Ekpebor Florence; Dr Godswill Okara among other JOHESU officials, added that “CONHESS review is the upward adjustment of the CONHESS Salary table in-line with the same principles used in adjusting the CONMESS table for medical doctors who work with us in the health team.

“Our own demand for the adjustment of CONHESS that affects over 95 per cent of the health workforce nationwide has been frustrated, and part of the reason for this is that the Minister of Health as well as the Minister of State for Health are all medical doctors, while the Minister of Labour and Employment, who should be a neutral umpire in trade disputes is equally a medical doctor.

“They, therefore, feel unconcerned on matters of welfare of other healthcare providers. This is quite unfortunate.
“However, after three rounds of meetings held on, April 26, 2018, May 2, 2018, and May 7, 2018, respectively, at the instance of the Minister of Labour and Employment to find a way forward, but alas, the Federal Ministry of Health is bent on thwarting all efforts at reaching an amicable settlement of the issues of our demands, especially the upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Structure, despite the superior argument of National salaries, incomes and Wages Commission to the effect that basic salaries are always the same apart from the 1991 distortion which was later corrected by a federal government policy with the Harmonised Salary Structure of 1988 while relativity is based on the entry point of doctors and other health professionals.

“We wish to bring to your attention, the preferential treatment given to medical doctors has remained the major albatross to peaceful coexistence of health practitioners in the health industry in Nigeria,” Josiah said.

He further stated that “government has not shown any seriousness to meet our demands and the existence of fifth columnists in and out of government who are bent on escalation to prolong the strike for their selfish interest of privatisation of government hospitals, and buy these government legacies for themselves has not helped the matter.”
On President Buhari’s perennial medical trips abroad, Josiah stated that JOHESU cannot stop the president from travelling abroad for medical attention, as the union is not empowered to do so.

The union also stressed that unless corruption in the Federal Ministry of Health is stopped, the health sector in the country would know no peace.

They observed that rampant and naked display of corruption in the health ministry was the bane of the nation’s health care system

They accused the Minister of Health Prof. Isaac Adewole, Minister of State for Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire and Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, of worsening the crisis in the health sector.

Efforts by THISDAY to speak with officials at the Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja, including the minister, Adewole, were not fruitful, as they did not respond to calls and text messages put across to them.