Striking Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) members are losing sympathy by the day. The refusal of other workers in government-run hospitals to join the strike is making it ineffective. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is also opposed to JOHESU’s demands, report ONYEDI OJIABOR, DUKU JOEL, TONY AKOWE, GBADE OGUNWALE, BOLAJI OGUNDELE and ERNEST NWOKOLO.
•Fed govt cautions unions
MORE knocks came yesterday for the leadership of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), whose members have been on strike since April 17.
The JOHESU leaders were carpeted for coercing non-members of their unions to embark on solidarity strike in order to gain their employers’ attention.
There were reports that the striking workers have been assaulting workers found on duty. They were also locking up government hospitals in a bid to cripple the health sector and make their action effective.
JOHESU is demanding an upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Scale, arrears of skipping of CONHESS 10 and employment of additional health professionals.
The union is seeking the implementation of court judgments and upward review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years.
But the federal and state governments, as well as concerned Nigerians berated the action of the JOHESU members. They accused them of outstepping their bounds.
Strike: Fed Govt cautions
REIN in your members, the Federal Government told the leadership of the striking Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) yesterday.
The warning, issued through the Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, came in the wake of reports that JOHESU members were intimidating other health workers for failing to join their nationwide strike.
Adewole reminded the striking JOHESU members that they have no constitutional right to harass others who have been carrying out their assigned duties in the hospitals and in other public health institutions.
The minister’s warning was contained in a statement by the Health ministry’s spokesman Oshundun Olajide, who said Prof Adewole was reacting to a news briefing by the President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) Dr. Ugochukwu Chinaka.
He noted that the NARD accused JOHESU members of harassing and molesting its members and other medical officers for showing up at their respective duty posts.
According to the statement, the minister was also informed that JOHESU members were accused of locking-up public health facilities to prevent access to those who are not on strike.
Olajide also quoted the minister as saying that the Federal Government would neither accept nor condone any act of irresponsibility and disobedience to constituted authorities.
The minister has directed the immediate re-opening of all health facilities sealed by JOHESU members to enable them provide required services without jeopardizing on-going negotiation.
The statement added that Adewole reiterated that all heads of medical institutions should urgently provide adequate security for the workers on duty.
It warned that any person found disturbing the peace in any health facility should be made to face the law.
NARD’s First Vice President Dr. Ganiyu Ahmed accused JOHESU members of becoming increasingly aggressive towards other health professional, particularly doctors, who are not on strike.
He told reporters on April 28 that JOHESU members manhandled a resident doctor on duty at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital in Awka, Anambra State.
Doctors attend to
patients in Delta
The doctors on the payroll of government hospitals and other public medical facilities in Warri and environs were at work yesterday.
The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the Central Hospital, Warri, Dr. Paul Okunbor, encouraged members of their public to bring their sick and ailing kinsmen to government hospitals for treatment.
He told reporters in Warri yesterday that those in need of medical care at the government-owned hospitals were being attended to.
Explaining that only the JOHESU members in the hospital were observing the industrial action called by its national executive on April 17, the CMD said doctors were on ground to attend to patients.
He said: “As the medical director of this hospital, you can see that I am on duty attending to patients at the antenatal care. Other consultants are also attending to patients. Though JOHESU is on strike, doctors are not involved. Doctors are rendering services to patients who are coming in.
“Of course, JOHESU members are part of the hospital and if they are not around, some of those areas may constitute some problems, but we are finding ways to go around it. The hospitals are opened for services, so people should not sit at home and say hospitals are on strike. We are still rendering some services to patients.”
He said that some wards were not functioning properly because the nurses belong to JOHESU.
Okunbor said: “As it is now, the nurses are on strike. So, we may not be able to open all the wards for so many reasons, including security. We may also not have enough manpower to use all the wards; that is why we are using few wards.
Ogun NMA slams union
The local chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in Ogun State condemned the JOHESU leadership for forcing states and local government health workers into the ongoing strike in solidarity with their colleagues the national level.
It said the JOHESU strike may not serve any good purpose as it would neither add value to patients’ care in the country nor bring about any improvement in health facilities.
In a statement by its acting Chairman, Abikoye Peters, the Ogun NMA dismissed the strike “ill-guided, anti-doctor, anti-patient and anti-institution.”
According to it, strike in the health industry has always been associated with loss of lives. He explained that strike should be a bargaining instrument when all other means of getting attention has failed and not means of “wreaking havoc” as threatened by JOHESU.
Reiterating that Ogun NMA members were not on strike, Peters assured: “All hospitals are open to all patients across the state as doctors are available to attend to their clients promptly.
“Strikes should be an instrument of bargaining when all other means of getting attention has failed. When a union is pushed into calling strike, the above qualities should be the guiding principles.
“A union whose headship is boasting of wreaking havoc with strike has failed to demonstrate empathy and far beyond the bounds of true patriotism.
“Directing states’ and local government’s health workers to join the strike calls for concern, especially in estimating the real motive behind the exercise. Strike in the health industry is associated with irreparable loss of lives. On its merit, this is enough to call for caution while the strike lasts.
“We identify with every family and home, who have been negatively impacted by the on-going strike. We are not against any cadre of workers agitating for their due pay, but we maintain JOHESU’s strike is adding no value to patients’ care. Neither is it adding any improvement to the facilities.
“We plead that heads of hospitals and their management team should give all the necessary support, assistance and backups to the doctors at their respective duty posts while mitigating the effect of the on-going strike.”
approved in Yobe
Yobe State Governor Ibrahim Gaidam approved greed to 100 per cent implementation of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) in his domain.
The beneficiaries are nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals in the state’s health sector. The approval was to avoid the health workers’ strike.
Gaidam’s spokesman Abdullahi Bego said in a statement that the implementation was only 70 per cent before the latest approval.
The Nation learnt that health workers in the state were not part of the on-going strike following negotiations with government which has now come to fruition.
According to local chairman of the National Association of Nurses and Midwives, Abdul-Azeez Usman, members had been put on the alert pending the outcome of their negotiations with the government.
“With the ongoing negotiations, we have placed our members on red alert to join the strike if we fail to reach agreements,’’ he told reporters last week in Damaturu, the state capital.
According to Bego’s statement, the state government will be expending additional N74.4 million monthly to implement CONHESS.
The statement reads: “Prior to the approval, the CONHESS implementation rate was 70 per cent. The governor has also approved 100 per cent implementation of the revised Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) for medical officers.
“A submission on the salaries of administrative staff of the Yobe State University Teaching Hospital (YSUTH) was also approved by the governor.
“The total monetary implication of the approvals – which is the differential on the existing salaries being enjoyed by the three groups of beneficiaries – is N74, 335, 339.2 per month.
“With the state government now implementing CONHESS, CONMESS and YSUTH’s administrative staff salaries 100 per cent, Governor Gaidam has brought the remuneration package in the state’s health sector at par with what obtains in federal government health institutions.”
Ebola: Senate pleads
with striking workers
The Senate pleaded with JOHESU to call off the over three-week strike.
The upper chambers’ resolution was sequel to a motion on “Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Need to Take Precautionary Measures” by Senator Oluremi Tinubu (APC-Lagos) during plenary.
It urged the ministers of Interior and Health to take necessary steps to check immigration and to ensure alertness to combat whatever cases that might arise and get Ebola vaccines ready for an emergency
Mrs. Tinubu recalled that an infected immigrant, Mr Patrick Sawyer, who arrived in Nigeria in July 23, 2014, was notable for been the index case for the introduction of Ebola virus into Nigeria.
The senator, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on the Environment, said the tide, as at then, was stemmed by quick response of the government.
She said that recent reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO), showed that the disease was back in neighboring Congo with 19 deaths and 39 infected casualties recorded so far.
“The WHO states that Nigeria and other African countries are at risk of spread”, the senator noted, adding that unless the hospitals were prepared properly and equipped with Ebola vaccines, it would be an epidemic Nigeria might be unable to take on.
Contributing, Senate Chief Whip Olusola Adeyeye called on the Senate to intervene for a quick resolution of the ongoing strike by health workers
Senator Victor Umeh (APGA-Anambra) noted: “Prevention of the disease was better than cure. We must ensure that Nigeria is not taken unawares again. We should be on the alert.”
Senate President Bukola Saraki said all stakeholders must ensure adequate steps were taken to forestall any occurrence.
Doctors, ministry accused
of sabotage, insincerity
JOHESU’s National Chairman Biobebelemoye Josiah alerted members of the public on purported efforts by doctors to frustrate ongoing talks to end the four-week-old strike embarked upon by the union.
Josiah, who raised the alarm when he fielded reporter’s questions in Abuja, also accused the Ministry of Health of collaborating with the doctors in suppressing his union’s legitimate demands.
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) had in a statement threatened to withdraw their services across health institutions in the country if the federal government acceded to the demands of JOHESU and other health workers.
The statement read in part: “The NMA wishes to draw the attention of the Federal Government to our correspondence of April 21, 2014, on the above, in which we reminded the government of the collective bargaining agreement we had with the Federal Government of Nigeria in January 2014.
“It is also pertinent to once again remind Government about the concluding part of our letter no. NMA/PRE/SG/03/0751 of 21st March 2014, which states, `In view of the above, the NMA painfully wishes to inform the Federal Government of Nigeria that any award to the non-medically qualified health professionals that violates the January and July agreements of 2014 shall result in the resumption of the suspended withdrawal of service of 2014. Please take this as a notice, sir”.
But the JOHESU however alleged that the two ministers of health were not serious in ending the strike in view of their position in support of the demands of the doctors at the detriment of JOHESU.
He said: “This very agreement was entered into and then a memo was made to Mr. President as they claimed even though they gave us a copy later.
“When they made this memo it was in December and the ministry of health defended her budget in February, but did not deem it to include that the amount it worked for the payment or settlement of this very issue.
“This goes a long way to show that there was dishonesty, insincerity from the beginning on the part of the ministry (Federal Ministry of Health) because most probably the minister is a doctor; minister of state (Health) is a doctor and minister of labour who is supposed to be the chief negotiator, is also a medical doctor.’’
Last Friday, JOHESU called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately intervene in the ongoing industrial action.
The National Vice Chairman of JOHESU, Ogbonna Chimela, made the call in a chat with State House reporters at the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Chimela, who is also the National President of Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP), said the call was informed by the fact the meeting between the union and the officials of the Federal Ministry of Health had ended in a deadlock as there was no common ground reached to resolve the crisis.
He, therefore, stated that Buhari’s intervention had become necessary to avert possible collapse of the nation’s health system.
According to him, the President was being blanketed from vital information concerning the situation in the health sector.
He said: “From our investigation and from what we know now, we have discovered that our President, President Muhammadu Buhari, has not been well informed of the happenings in the health sector, is like some information are being blanketed; not getting to him because we know whom he is.
“He is a sincere man who has the love of an average Nigerian at heart. We know that he is humane and he cannot toy with the lives of Nigerians if he is well aware of this present situation in the health sector we know he would go direct in arresting the issue and resolve it.
“So, we are calling on Mr. President to quickly intervene in this matter because JOHESU and its members are not strike mongers, we don’t love strike.”
But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) blamed the Federal Government for failing to dialogue with the striking workers.
It described President Muhammadu Buhari’s alleged refusal to address the ongoing strike action as a clear manifestation of insensitivity to the plight and suffering of Nigerians.
Lamenting the anguish of hundreds of Nigerians who have been abandoned and dying by the day in public hospitals as a result of the strike, the PDP accused the Buhari administration of not attaching the desired importance to issues affecting the people.
In a statement by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party said it was the height of insensitivity for the President to embark on frequent medical tourism abroad at a time Nigerians in dire need of medical attention were left to suffer.
The statement said: “In the PDP, the health, security and welfare of Nigerians remain pivotal to us and that is why we feel pained that compatriots are dying in their numbers because of the refusal of the Buhari-led APC administration to address the health workers’ strike.
“The PDP, therefore, stands with Nigerians at this critical time. We identify with the sick and those who have lost their loved ones under this present circumstance and urge all public-spirited individuals, humanitarian organisations and the international community to come to the aid of our nation.
“Furthermore, while we plead with the health workers to be open to ways to solve the problem, we charge Nigerians to support one another and adhere to all health etiquettes to forestall an outbreak of epidemic and health crisis.”
‘Don’t collect salaries during strike’
To Abdulrasaq Abubakre, a professor of Islamic Studies,, it is against the tenets of Islam to receive salary for the period one has not worked.
Abubakre, who recently retired from the University of Ilorin, spoke with the reporters against the backdrop of JOHESU’s ongoing strike.
The don said unions should find ways of resolving grievances with their employers rather than resorting to strike.
He said: “If you pay Zakat on the salary you received and did not work for, you will not receive the intended reward from God.
“The perspective of Islam is that of trust, trust is very crucial in Islam. JOHESU members are entrusted with the concern and care of patients across hospitals in Nigeria.
“Money is important but it is secondary, secondary in the sense that your primary role is to save lives. Health workers must understand that it is God that heals and they must have this at the back of their minds.”
He also said the country must develop a culture of responsibility and response, urging the government to also be alive to its responsibilities.
Abubakre condemned JOHESU’s demand for pay parity with medical doctors, describing it as unreasonable.
The professor, who said the foundation of JOHESU’s strike was weak, urged its leaders to get serious and be reasonable in their negotiations.
He, however, called on the Federal Government to be proactive and always prevent strikes from happening rather than finding solutions to industrial disputes.
Abubakre got an ally in Rev. Cornelius Fawenu, who explained that the position of Christianity on receiving salaries for the period one did not work was clear and unambiguous.
He said: “From the biblical perspective, the scripture is clear; it says he who does not work must not eat. I am sure it is from your salary that you eat from, it is not wise and it is not moral that you expect to be paid for the work you have not done.
“The scripture also says that when you hire a labourer to work for you, his sweat must not dry up before you pay him. The wages must be commensurate with the work done.”
Fawenu said, a former Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Secretary in Kwara State, said health workers must consider the nature of their profession before embarking on strike.
The cleric said: “These people should know that even though they have grievances, the humane side of them should be able to come to play.
“Those who are suffering now are not in government; when those in government want to access medical care, they know where to go.”
Ngige to doctors: stop meddling in strike
Labour and employment Minister Chris Ngige urged the leadership of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) to stay away from the ongoing strike.
He said the meddlesomeness of the NMA was making it difficult for the government to resolve issues that triggered the JOHESU strike.
Dr. Ngige, in a statement signed by his ministry’s spokesman Samuel Olowokore, said the doctors should stop meddling in the strike, adding that such meddlesomeness arising from an unhealthy inter-union rivalry will adversely put pressure on social dialogue mechanism.
He, however, appealed to the striking health workers to call off its strike as the CONHESS table that corresponds with the 2014 CONMESS adjustment with the medical doctors has been appropriately addressed by the National Salary Income and Wages Commission and given as an offer in the spirit of equity.
The statement reads: “The attention of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige has been drawn to media reports credited to the new Executive of the Nigerian Medical Association(NMA) wherein the body has taken to meddlesome interloping in the ongoing negotiations with the striking Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU)
“The minister wishes to state that in trade unionism, such meddlesomeness arising from an unhealthy inter-union rivalry will adversely put pressure on social dialogue mechanism, clog the wheel of progress and in this instance retard the return of industrial harmony in the entire health sector.
“Hence, the NMA should desist from further interference of any form, in the ongoing negotiation as well as stop issuing threats to the Federal Government as it is firmly resolved to achieve a lasting industrial peace in all sectors without prejudice to perceived group interests.
“Besides, I wish to once more appeal to JOHESU to call off its strike as the CONHESS table that corresponds with the 2014 CONMESS adjustment with the medical doctors has been appropriately addressed by the National Salary Income and Wages Commission and given as an offer in the spirit of equity. I therefore plead that you consider the tragic consequences your action has already brought on the vulnerable patients in hospitals across the nation.”
Group offers free medical outreach
A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Jacco’s Charity International, in collaboration with Catholic Youths of Nigeria Holy Trinity Parish, Maitama, Abuja, has deployed its members to offer free medical services.
It kicked-off the free medical service on Sunday to residents of Gishiri community, Abuja, to cushion the effects of ongoing strike.
Ambassador Jodie, founder of the charity organisation, which was established in 2012, said the outreach was to support less-privileged, who could not afford medical bills in private hospitals.
She explained that the outreach at Gishiri, an Abuja Municipal Area Council of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) comprised of series of tests, malaria treatment, test and treatment of diabetes, while kids not older than five years received vitamins.
Jodie said the programme was expected to cover more than 300 people, adding that the outreach was specifically for women and children.
She appealed to government to do something about the strike “so that more people can have access to good and better healthcare services.
“Imagine how many people die because of the ongoing strike: I cannot imagine the agony of a woman in labour who goes to hospital and the health workers are not there to attend to her, this is horrible.
“We are not in support of the strike and we want more people to access quality and affordable health care services.”
She explained that a team of medical experts from the United States (U.S.) would also join the free medical outreach team to ensure that more people access the health services and appealed to well-meaning Nigerians to support the programme.
“Our main focus is to reach out to orphans and less privileged persons in the society,” she said.
Dr. Simeonie Yamiya, one of the medical personnel, said the team discovered that most people in Gishiri community do not go to hospital.
He added that many people were diagnosed of hypertension and diabetes and urged Nigerians to imbibe the habit of regular medical check-up.
A beneficiary, Earnest Amor, expressed satisfaction with the services provided and commended the organisers of the programme.