As health workers under the aegis of the Joint health Sector Unions (JOHESU) took to the familiar path of strike on Wednesday, the general question probably going in many people's minds is: "why are they on strike again?"
While some Nigerians are blaming the health workers for resorting to strike over slight grievances, what many may not be aware of is that the strike is a result of carry-over issues over decades.
JOHESU is made of five different unions in the health sector, including' the Medical and Health Workers Union (MHWU), the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), the Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutions and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI), Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and the Non Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutes (NASU).
The current strike is a continuation of a three-day warning strike the union members threatened to embark on late January this year. Giving reasons for the warning strike then, JOHESU President, Dr Wabba Ayuba, said: "Our patience has been overstretched. Our display of good faith, patience, restraint and maturity on the issues and other perennial cases of injustices has been taken for weakness by the Health Ministry. And we are determined to ensure that our demands are met.
"Agonisingly, at the meeting of January 16,2014 to re- appraise the outcome of the Health' Ministry's implementation of the agreed issues, we found out that the ministry has virtually not implemented any of the issues in contention. This is despite the fact that local branches of our unions had already commenced strike action to protest the non-skipping of CONHESS (Consolidated Health Salary Structure 10) which the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NIC) had upheld in its judgment.
"In the light of these outlined acts of industrial violations, injustice and deprivations, our members across the length and breadth of the country have no other choice than to embark on a three-day warning strike with effect from Wednesday, January 22,2014."
When the Federal Government recalled what happened in 2013 when JOHESU strike brought the health sector to a halt, it quickly called for a meeting with the union members in Abuja where some of the requests were granted with the promise to fulfill the rest. One of the requests granted to the unions then was the restoration of consultancy status for healthcare providers. But that later made medical practitioners under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) to embark on an indefinite strike from July this year. To pacify NMA, the Federal Ministry of Health under the leadership of the then Health Minister, Prof. Chwuku Onyebuchi, withdrew some of the requests granted to JOHESU.
This resulted "in another round of negotiations on several court judgments and earlier signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). When the healthcare providers saw that they were not getting the needed response from government, they threatened to down tools in October, after shifting such threats on several occasions. But the Federal Government pleaded for time to meet the demands of the union, and later scheduled a meeting for October. After the meeting, NUAHP decided to embark on an indefinite strike on October 16. Four other unions, believing that government would honor its words, decided to wait with a threat to embark on an indefinite. strike on November 1. In a bid to buy time, government called for another negotiation meeting in mid November, an arrangement which
JOHESU swiftly objected, adding that the union would not honor any meeting not held last week.
Government obliged and called for a meeting on Thursday last week. After six hours of deliberation that lasted till 10 pm, JOHESU saw that government did not have any good news for them, except the restoration of consultancy status that was earlier drawn from health care providers. They decided to down tools on midnight of November 12. How long the current strike by JOHESU would last solely depends on government.
By Joseph Okoghenun
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