By Ebuka Onyeji
The Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) has attributed the Federal Government’s ‘slow pace’ towards implementing its demands to the recent threat by doctors.
The union also accused the Health Minister, Isaac Adeowle, of posing a ‘body language’ that militates against resolving the impasse.
JOHESU, an association of health workers except doctors, has been on strike for a month.
Patients are the worst hit. They are currently passing through hardship as nurses and midwives — some of the most influential members of JOHESU — have all downed tools.
Nigerian doctors have threatened to withdraw their services across health institutions in the country if the government accedes to the demands of the striking JOHESU.
The doctors- under the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), are opposed to salary adjustment and harmonisation for the striking health workers. On Thursday, the NMA said the warning became necessary as state and local government workers joined the strike in a bid to force the government to act.
According to the National Vice Chairman of JOHESU, Ogbonna Chimela, a series of meetings with the government have been unfruitful due to stiff opposition to their demands by Nigerian doctors.
Since the strike began, no common ground has been reached in the of meetings both parties except for last Wednesday’s meeting when the government promised “to prepare an offer”.
On Sunday, Mr Chimela confirmed that the union received an offer from government which is being considered. “We are expected to meet with the government on Tuesday to make a presentation on the offer. We hope this will be the concluding meeting.”
However on Thursday, an apparently frustrated Mr Chimela told PREMIUM TIMES that negotiations has been slowed and deadlocked as the government is being threatened by the NMA.
“The government is being threatened because of the comments of another association (NMA) in implementing what we have agreed on. This group (NMA) had gone to the government and made their own demands which they have gotten, now they opposing our own demand.”
In an apparently direct accusation of the minister, Mr Chimela said, “This threat by NMA is making government slow. The minister of health is threading the path of the NMA, he is not being neutral in this matter. He is acting as if he is the minister of medical practitioners alone and not the minister of health. All of us are involved in this health sector.
“His own position and body language is escalating the matter whenever we try to resolve these issues.”
Mr Chimela said the minister should be neutral and “all encompassing” to make sure there is peace in the sector.
Responding, Mr Adewole the health minister described allegations levelled against him as untrue.
“That is not true. The government is here to ensure that when this crisis ends another one does not start. That is our duty, we are not only looking at implementation of their demands, we are also looking at the implications of what they are asking for. That is why we are asking them to also compromise because at the negotiation table you don’t always get what you want 100 per cent especially if its going to cause harm.”
He said another meeting between the government and the union will start, “in just few minutes”.
On how the government is battling with the dilemma of implementing the demands of JOHESU without provoking the wrath of the medical doctors, the minister described the Government as “a benevolent father”.
“We look at both sides, you look at what your children is asking for, you make them see reason with you and consider your ability to pay. You also look at what will give them happiness and that is our duty and we will get the done.”
On why the NMA has threatened to down tools, the newly elected president of the association, Francis Faduyile explained how the implementation of JOHESU demands will alter the existing relativity in the salary scale in the health sector.
“We have been disadvantaged for more than 12 years in the health sector until 2014 when the government realised this and readjusted our salary scale which is CONMESS.
“Now JOHESU is asking for the same readjustment on their salary scheme. If this is done, it means the relativity is altered and we will go back to that position where we are disadvantaged. They are asking that everything for CONMESS point for point, level for level must be the same thing with CONHESS.
“If this is done, it will be a bad morale to us. I am working as a doctor and (I) am collecting N5, another person in service who did not go through the kind of training I went through and is not working as much as I do will still be collecting the same salary, why am I going through all these stress then?
“Before, the salary ratio of doctors and other health workers used to be 3.3 to 1.0 but today we have cut it down to 1.5 to 1.0 almost by 50 per cent so that peace will reign but they just want it to be at par. But we are saying we have given so much to that level of 1.5 and we can’t go beyond that.”
Consolidated Medical Salary Structure, CONMESS, is the salary structure for medical and dental officers in the federal public service while Consolidated Health Salary Structure, CONHESS, is the salary structure for pharmacists, medical laboratory, nurses and other health workers in the health sector of the federal public service.