Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Health workers in the country under the umbrella of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA) have declared an indefinite strike beginning from yesterday.
Addressing a press conference after the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of JOHESU, its National Vice Chairman, Dr. Obinna Ogbonna, said the strike was necessitated by federal government’s inability to respond to the grievances of the workers despite series of appeals and representations.
He said: “Consequent upon the non-challant, bias and lackadaisical attitude of the Federal Ministry of Health against JOHESU members and the resolution of the expanded National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) held on Monday, 8th May, 2023, our members in Federal Health Institutions nationwide are hereby directed to withdraw their services indefinitely commencing from 00:00 hour on Thursday, 25th May, 2023.”
Ogbonna listed the issues in dispute as Adjustment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS), payment of peculiar allowances to health workers under the aegis of JOHESU/AHPA and immediate and unconditional implementation of the Consultant Cadre Circular for Pharmacists in all Federal Health Institutions.
Other demands included payment of all withheld salaries of their members in Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri; Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH); Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and outstanding April and May, 2018 salaries of members in Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Azare.
Furthermore, their demands included payment of health workers excluded in the payment of new hazard allowances.
Ogbonna said the adjustment of CONHESS Scale as was done with CONMESS Scale in 2009, the federal government committed itself to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on relativity in the two salary structures that were introduced via Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) for all health workers except physicians and Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) for physicians.
He said the implication of the MoU was that any adjustment on any of the salary structures would transcend to the automatic tinkering of the other structure by a commensurate ratio.
“On January 2nd, 2014, the federal government adjusted the CONMESS Scale holistically and further adjusted selectively for physicians in 2017, without adjusting that of CONHESS for other health workers.
“During negotiations on this matter in 2018, with a team of federal government officials led by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, and the then Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who incidentally are physicians, it was impossible to break the impasse which has lasted up till today.”
Ogbonna revealed that at the peak of negotiations with the federal government team, it offered N6.5 billion which was rejected because it was grossly below the N22.6 billion prepared by the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) as agreed in the 2017 Terms of Settlement.
He added that an intervention was also brokered by the leadership of the National Assembly, who promised to accommodate federal government approvals for CONHESS through supplementary budget.
“It is imperative to put on record that contrary to the information that it was President Muhammadu Buhari, who refused to approve the N22.6billion from NSIWC, the estimate from NSIWC was never presented for the president’s approval.
“At least, it was the High Level Body (HLB) Command of the federal government that refused to okay the estimate of N22.6 billion to cater for the adjustment of CONHESS Scale as was done with CONMESS Scale.
“This particular development confirms that the rings of physicians who preside over the Federal Ministry of Health are clever users of untruth.
“They have been manipulating events and dropping the name of President Buhari to have their professional interest dominate proceeding in the health sector,” he said.
The health sector unions had earlier on Wednesday, staged a protest in Abuja, and had urged Buhari to immediately approve and implement the Technical Committee Report on the adjustment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure(CONHESS).
The unions had also tasked the incoming government, the National Assembly, especially senators-elect and House of Representatives Members-elect to ensure the appointment of seasoned administrators with cognate experience as ministers in charge of the health sector.