ONCE again, Nigerians will have to grapple with a nationwide health sector industrial action with debilitating consequences as the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) has mandated health workers in the 36 states, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and in the 774 local councils join the12-day-old strike.
Also, for the first time, the health workers want President Goodluck Jonathan to assent to the National Health Bill (NHB) as passed by the National Assembly even as they call for the establishment of a National Health Commission.
JOHESU and the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) had in a letter to the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, made 12 fresh demands, which they said must be met before they return to the negotiating table.
The letter, jointly signed by Chairman of JOHESU, Dr. Ayuba P. Wabba, its Secretary, Comrade Yusuf-Badmus, and PSN President, Olumide Akintayo, stated they have also informed the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) of the chain of events in the last few days and solicited their total support.
According to them, “it is pertinent to declare that our 12-point demand, which is sacrosanct, must be met before we return to the negotiating table with government, which has continued to trivialize our welfare demands,” the statement read.
“JOHESU therefore calls on our members in the states and local government areas to down tools from the midnight of Friday, November 21, 2014. “We hold the view that the Federal Government has misunderstood our disposition to be reasonable and responsible for weakness, which is most unfortunate.”
Among the 12-point demands are: that President Goodluck Jonathan immediately assents to the National Health Bill. The harmonized version of the bill offers some hope if the noble intendments are well implemented.
“Government must sponsor a bill for a National Health Commission, which must have representatives of major health professional associations and trade unions. The headship of the commission must be designed to facilitate any health worker as appointable.
“The mandate of this commission must be the management of inter-professional squabbles in the healthcare sector.”
Copied were the Ministers of Health and Labour and Productivity, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Director General, State Security Services, presidents of NLC and TUC.
The letter noted: “It has become imperative after a critical appraisal of the attitude and response of the Federal Government to our ongoing strike to inform Your Excellency of the perception of our members nationwide.
“As usual, the Federal Government has treated our welfare demands with contempt, levity and extreme insensitivity. Nothing describes this better than the position of the Ministry of Labour that we commence discussions on adjustment of the salaries of our members afresh despite initiating this dialogue with the Federal Government over 10 months ago under the auspices of the SGF.
“This is in addition to the consistently despicable acts of the Ministry of Health under the watch of members of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), who have never disguised their hatred over the years for our members, who are treated as second rate citizens.
“To the credit of the Ministry of Health, while it negotiates and dances to the commandments of doctors, the it actively challenges our positive outcomes in courts of the land while jeopardizing the spirit of circulars it issues in collaboration with the boards of management of some federal health institutions.”
According to them, they have evaluated these developments and after consultations with members nationwide, posited the following as the 10 other demands:
• There has been a minimal level of compliance with the extant circular on the promotion of our members from CONHESS 14 to 15 as directors.
But it is highly unfortunate, as the taskforce monitoring the compliance rate for subsisting circulars, led by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health noted, quite a number of tertiary hospitals have willfully truncated the implementation of this exceedingly important circular.
Of particular note are Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) and Federal Neuropsychiatry Hospital (FNPH), Enugu. We call for explicit sanctions for the management of these institutions.
• Specific steps are to be taken by the Head of Service of the Federation to ensure the expedited issuance of an enabling circular authorizing consultancy cadre for health professionals that have adhered to due process as prelude to inculcating this cadre into the schemes of service of these health professionals.
This must be worked out with the Ministry of Health in line with the spirit of the circular on consultancy and specialist allowances Ref. SMH.491/S.2/VOL II.221 of March 29, 1976, which authorizes consultancy status for all health professionals, and the condition precedent to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) that provides for a Ministry of Health nod for the appointment of consultants.
We seize this opportunity to remind government that the Ministry of Health cannot continue to be seen as a partial arbiter that does not disguise its bias towards the preferences of only one profession in a multi-disciplinary sector. This clamour becomes even more valid against the background that JOHESU caters for the interest of over 95 percent of the healthcare workforce.
• Payment of arrears of special allowances to qualified hospital-based health professionals effect from January 1, 2010 without delay.