Despite last-minute moves by the Federal Government to prevent further crisis in the health sector, health workers have withdrawn their services in all public hospitals across the country.
But, the Federal Government has warned health workers not to proceed with the strike scheduled for today.
The workers, under the auspices of Joint Health Sector Workers Union (JOHESU) and Assembly of Healthcare Professionals Associations (AHPA), had earlier issued a 15-day ultimatum to down tools by midnight of Sunday, 13th September, should the Federal Government fail to meet their demands.
It was recalled that the unions had met with the Federal Government on Thursday, September 10, to find a common ground in order to avert the strike while meeting the aggrieved workers’ demands.
At the end of an exhaustive conciliatory meeting which held at the instance of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, the parties agreed on some resolutions which led to a Memorandum of Terms of Settlement, with an understanding that JOHESU would consult with her members and report back on Saturday, 12th September.
Although the meeting was adjourned to 15th October to enable the Labour Ministry to carry out the assignments in the Terms of Settlement, the health workers maintained since no concrete resolution was made at the meeting, the strike would proceed as planned.
This was contained in a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment, at the end of the unions’ extended National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, held both physically and virtually. The letter with reference number HO/JOHESU/ ADM/FMoH/VOL.I/58, which was sighted by newsmen yesterday in Abuja, was signed by the President, Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Comrade Biobelemoye Josiah, and other principal officers of the various health unions under JOHESU and AHPA.
The letter reads: “You would recall that at the end of the meeting held in your office on Thursday, 10th September, JOHESU demanded that the outcome of the meeting between JOHESU and the Federal Government be reported back to our expanded NEC meeting and give feedback to the Federal Government within 48 hours. “In the light of the above, the meeting of our expanded NEC was held today, Saturday, 12th September 2020.
READ ALSO: Ministers move to end health workers strike
At the end of the meeting, which was held both physically and virtually, it was unanimously agreed that since nothing concrete was achieved at the said meeting with the Federal Government, that the strike notice is still germane and alive.
“Therefore, the 15-day ultimatum still subsists and with effect from midnight of Sunday, 13th September, our members shall withdraw their services due to the Federal Government’s inability to meet their demands.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labour has warned that going ahead with the action would be treated as illegal as it was in clear breach of the ILO Principles and Conventions on Strike and Sec. 18 of the Trades Disputes Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The unions were asked not to arm-twist or intimidate the Federal Government that has shown a clear commitment to tackling the challenges in the sector as evidenced by the huge resources it has committed into the sector since the COVID- 19 pandemics broke out. The ministry made its position known in a statement issued by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Charles Akpan.
The ministry said: “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 as Pharmacists, Nurses/Midwives, and 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.
“This call for the withdrawal of services is clearly unnecessary as the Federal Government has demonstrated capacity in her amelioration of age-long challenges in the health sector and has overly shown a commitment to the welfare of health workers by providing enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and boosting their morale while tackling the strange pandemic.
The least expectation hence is that JOHESU should reciprocate the gesture while the government works to meet its other demands post-COVID- 19.
“The Hon. Minister had, during this last negotiation, resolved all the issues raised by JOHESU against the Federal Ministry of Health except the issue of CONHESS adjustment which the Conciliators (Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment and Honourable Minister of State, Labour and Employment) advised JOHESU was not a consent judgement of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) flowing from Alternative Dispute Resolution agreement and advised both parties to get back and resolve and come back in four weeks.
“Same goes for the issue of refund of the two months 2018 April/May salaries caught up in the “No Work No Pay” principle when JOHESU were on a long strike of over two months, which was also a substratum of the strike issue at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) of 2018….
“The Minister of Labour and Employment, therefore, enjoins these unions under JOHESU conglomeration to do the needful and respect both the oaths of their profession, the country’s and International Laws, Conventions/ Regulations and revoke the call for a strike.
We appeal to them to give peace a chance as more effort is being made to address the only two monetary issues that is in their agitation.”