Hospitals’ Shutdown: Strike ThreatRidiculous – Ngige

The Federal Government, on Sunday, described as
ridiculous a threat by the Joint Health Sector Union to
embark on a strike.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, who
stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents
in Abuja, said the Federal Government would on Tuesday
meet with leadership of JOHESU.
The union, through its President, Josiah Biobelemonye,
had given a 15-day ultimatum to the labour minister and
other stakeholders on Saturday in Abuja.
The union had decried what it described as the nonchalant
attitude of the Federal Government to attend to lingering
issues concerning its members in a letter to the minister.
Some of the issues, according to JOHESU, are the
adjustment of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure as
was done with the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure
since 2014; payment of withheld April and May 2018
salaries of members and withheld salaries in the Federal
Medical Centre, Owerri; the Jos University Teaching
Hospital; and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital; and
the review of the defective implementation of COVID-19
Special Inducement and Hazard Allowance.
Others are the implementation of the National Industrial
Court of Nigeria’s alternative dispute resolution, consent
judgment and other court judgments, increase in the
retirement age from 60 to 65 years for health workers and
70 years for consultant health professionals.
JOHESU consists of associations of nurses, pharmacists,
laboratory scientists and other health workers. If the union
makes good its threat, government hospitals in the country
will be paralysed.
On Saturday last week, the NMA issued a 21-day strike
notice to the Federal Government with effect from Monday,
August 30, over its failure to meet the demands of the
National Association of Resident Doctors, which
commenced its strike on August 2.
Federal Government worried
Ngige told one of our correspondents that the government
was worried that health practitioners were planning to
embark on another strike.
He, however, said some of the issues raised were already
being discussed.
He added that it was against one of the principles of the
International Labour Organisation to issue strike notice on
issues that were already being discussed.
Such a step, he said, was tantamount to intimidating the
other party.
The minister said, “Why will the government not worry?
They have also taken the issue of ultimatum to a
ridiculous level. Some of the issues they raised are issues
that are already being addressed.
“One of the rules of engagement and the ILO principle of
negotiation is that when you are on a negotiating table,
you don’t issue strike notices. It becomes an intimidation
to the other party.
“Anyway, before they issued this, we had proposed to
meet with them on Tuesday. I will be surprised if they
have not received our letter, because I issued instructions
for them to meet us at the Presidential Committee on
Salaries and Wages on Tuesday.
“We shall be discussing their old demands, because if you
look at their strike threat, there are certain things that are
no issues for me, which I have never conciliated before.
“Issues like consultancy for pharmacists and nurses,
nobody has brought that to my table as a point of dispute.
Issues of dieticians and their entry scale, I have never
discussed it with them before.
“These are new and if they are new, they will discuss it
with their employer first and when they fail to reach an
agreement, they can come to me. I am not their employer;
their employer is the Ministry of Health.”
Ngige said the union was expected to discuss the issue of
entry point with the parent ministry in conjunction with the
Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.
“My meeting on Tuesday is to look at the hazard
allowance discussion, which we have been having. If there
are slipovers from the old Memorandum of Action as they
claimed, then we will look at them and know why the
government people have not effected our agreement, if
they have not done so,” he added.
When asked if he would also be reaching out to the
Nigerian Medical Association, which has also issued an
ultimatum, the minister disclosed that he would also be
meeting with the leadership a day or two after his meeting
with JOHESU.
He said the government decided to separate the meetings
because previous collective bargaining did not yield
positive results.
Ngige explained, “The meeting with the NMA will come
later, a day or two after that of JOHESU. We have decided
to separate them because previous negotiations or
collective bargaining meetings with them have not yielded
anything. We have met like four times at the State House.
“So, we will take them sector by sector as allowed by the
Negotiating Act. They are not doing the same work. They
belong to different categories of workers.
“If any category of workers tells you they don’t want to
negotiate with others, you grant their request. That is what
we are doing.
“Maybe we will fast-track our talks on hazard allowance
so that they won’t keep saying it is the government that is
drawing them back, whereas their inability to agree
collectively is pulling back discussions.
“We started this discussion in March and we are now in
September. The government is doing its own beat. The
government says we have N37.5bn for your hazard
allowance; that is what we want to budget and so we
have put it on the table and asked them to give us a
sharing formula viz-a-viz the existing hazard allowance
that the government is paying to some groups of workers
in the universities.
“Those workers in laboratories in the universities are
earning N15,000 a month for junior workers and N30,000
for senior workers. So, that is our benchmark from which
we are negotiating with them.”
The spokesman for JOHESU, Olumide Akintayo, also
confirmed to The PUNCH that the union had received an
invitation to Tuesday’s meeting and would be attending.
Akintayo said, “There are tentative meetings on September
7 and 14 with the labour and health ministries,
respectively. The meetings will hold if the Federal
Government goes ahead with them.
“Health professionals and workers need to be well before
they can take care of other people. If the Federal
Government fails to meet the demands dating back to
2014, it suggests insensitivity and oppression. We need to
solve the problems once and for all.
“Of course, we have received the letter from them and we
will be meeting them to resolve these issues.
“Like I have always said, JOHESU is a mature union and
we are sensitive to the yearnings of Nigerians; we have no
reason to go on a strike if our issues are resolved
amicably.
“For now, the ultimatum still stands until we meet and
things are adequately resolved.”
Akintayo lambasted Ngige for describing the unions’
demands as laughable.
On its part, NARD accused the minister of allegedly
feeding the Presidency with false information as regards
meeting its demands.
The National President, NARD, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi,
disclosed the association’s stance in an interview with The
PUNCH.
He said Ngige was feeding the Presidency with false
information.
“The first thing was claiming that the court ordered the
doctors to go back to work, which is not true,” he stated.
FG gives condition for withdrawal of case in court
Meanwhile, Ngige has said the government is ready to
withdraw the case it instituted against the resident doctors
if they resume work.
The minister said, “I briefed Mr President and we have
agreed that they should come back to work and if they
come back to work, we can take other things from there;
we’ll drop the case in court and then they will come back
and get things done.
“The Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, in
conjunction with the Office of the Head of Service, had a
meeting and they are jointly going to do a circular that will
be issued for salaries, incomes and wages to reiterate that
house officers and youth corps doctors are still on the
CONMES scales one and two, respectively. So, I think we
are doing the implementation.
“Also, from the monitoring meeting we held this morning,
the Ministry of Health has got the list of doctors, who
supposedly are to benefit from the Medical Residency
Training Fund.
“Total submission of about 8,000 names was obtained
and the Ministry of Health is scrutinising them. We have
done the first round of scrutiny and they will now compare
what they have with the Postgraduate Medical College’s
list and the chief medical directors, who submitted the
names.
“The Association of Resident Doctors in each of the tertiary
centres worked with the CMDs to produce those names,
but now that the names are being verified, we discovered
that about 2,000 names shouldn’t be there, because they
don’t have what is called Postgraduate Reference
Numbers of the National Postgraduate Medical College
and (or) that of the West African Postgraduate Medical
College.
“So, this is it and that is the only thing holding back the
Residency Fund payment, because it is there already…
incurred expenditure has been done by the finance minister
and it’s in the accountant-general’s office. So, once they
verify the authenticity of those they are submitting, the
accountant-general will pay.
“We are doing that verification because we do not want
what happened last time in 2020 to reoccur; in 2020, the
submitted names didn’t come through the appropriate
source, which is the Postgraduate Medical College, and
payment was affected and it was discovered that about
588 persons, who were not resident doctors, benefited
from such money and they are now finding it difficult to
make the full refund, but they have to refund that money.
“Some are refunding, but there is no full reconciliation of
the account. That account has to be reconciled to enable
the accountants to pay the next round of fund for 2021.
“That’s what I briefed Mr President about and we also
discussed some policies, which are not for public
consumption now. We take it in strides as the days come
by; we also discussed politics and the state of our party.
Source:- Punch

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