Health Workers’ Strike Ill-timed, Illegal, FG Insists

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By Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The federal government has declared the strike by the the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) as illegal and unnecessary.

In a statement issued yesterday by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment and signed by the Deputy Director in charge of Press and Public Relations, Mr. Mr. Charles Akpan, the federal government directed the various unions in the health sector operating under the umbrella of JOHESU not to go ahead with the strike scheduled for midnight of yesterday.

It also urged the Leadership of the various unions making up JOHESU to have a rethink on this illegal strike by putting the welfare of their patients and Nigeria first.

The ministry said negotiation with the union was still ongoing.

It said that going ahead with the action would be illegal as it is in clear breach of the ILO Principles and Conventions on Strike and Section 18 of the Trades Disputes Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

It urged JOHESU not to “arm-twist or intimidate the federal government that has shown clear commitment to tackling the challenges in the sector as evidenced by the huge resources it has been pouring into the sector since the Global COVID-19 pandemic broke out”.

“The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has effectively apprehended the trade dispute as forwarded to him by JOHESU and has brought JOHESU and the Federal Ministry of Health, their employers, to conciliation since Thursday, September 9, 2020. Parties in disputes are expected not to arm-twist, intimidate or foist helplessness on the other party, while negotiations are ongoing as per Sections 8 and 18 the of Trade Dispute Act (TDA) 2004 barring any strike when the matters are before a Conciliator and undergoing conciliation.

“Any strike now is inimical to an equable settlement of the dispute, bearing in mind especially that this is a grave period of a pandemic where the federal government has spent about N20 billion to pay April/May 2020 and an additional N8.9 billion for June 2020 on COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowances respectively to all categories of health workers that are mainly JOHESU members.

“Besides, all health workers on essential services such -pharmacists, nurses/midwives, radiographers as members of JOHESU are statutorily barred from strikes during emergencies, by both the ILO Statutes and the Trade Dispute Act 2004.

“Such an action while the nation battles the COVID-19 emergency accentuates its illegality, as it will compound and aggravate the challenges in health services, causing further risk and deaths to the sick in hospitals across the country as the COVID-19 pandemic has been declared as a situation of “Acute National Health crisis” by both the ILO and World Health Organisation (WHO) whose statutes and regulations have forbidden strike for the period,” it said.

The statement said that withdrawal of services is clearly unnecessary as the federal government has demonstrated capacity in her amelioration of age-long challenges in the health sector.

It listed some of things government done to include, provision of enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), approving N29 billion for payments of allowances and also spending N9.3billion as premium for Group Life Insurance for Medical and Health workers.