The meeting between the Federal Government and the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), the organisation representing the striking health workers, has come to a standstill.
The national vice-chairman of JOHESU, Obinna Ogbonna informed journalists in Abuja at the weekend that the negotiation meeting at the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), held shortly after the union declared its strike on Thursday, ended without reaching an agreement.
The health workers initiated an indefinite strike on Thursday, citing the alleged failure of government to meet their demands. The union had previously issued a 15-day ultimatum to the government, outlining concerns about inconsistencies in the ongoing negotiations regarding the adjustment of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) for health workers.
Ogbonna stated, “The meeting ended in a deadlock because we couldn’t reach an agreement with the federal government on Thursday.” He emphasised that it was necessary for the union to proceed with the strike as the ultimatum had expired.
During the meeting, the majority of attendees were from the FMOH, leading to an adjournment. Ogbonna expressed dissatisfaction with this arrangement, explaining, “On arriving at the meeting, we discovered that everyone, except those from the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NISWC), represented the FMoH. The former minister, who had already taken a position stating that it was impossible to grant the adjusted CONHESS, was the one presiding over the meeting.
“We had to tell him (the former minister of health) that he is an interested party in this matter and, according to the labour law, an interested party should not preside over the matter anymore because you cannot be a judge in your own matter”.
Consequently, the matter will be transferred to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, which will act as the conciliator between the health workers and the FMOH. The meeting has been adjourned until next week, although no specific date has been set due to the prevailing mood of the nation and the ongoing inaugural process.
The demands put forth by the health workers include the immediate approval and implementation of the technical committee report on CONHESS adjustment by the government. They also seek prompt payment of the omission and shortfall in the COVID-19 hazard/inducement allowances for affected health workers in federal health institutions.
Additionally, the union is calling for the unconditional implementation of the pharmacist consultant cadre, as well as the payment of all withheld salaries of the Federal Medical Centre Owerri, Jos University Teaching Hospital and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. It is also demanding the settlement of outstanding April and May 2018 salaries of members at FMC Azare.
Moreover, JOHESU advocates for the swift implementation of the increase in the retirement age from 60 to 65 years and 70 years for consultants in the health professions.
It is important to note that JOHESU represents health workers other than medical doctors and dentists. The association includes unions and associations such as the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals, Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, senior staff association of universities, teaching hospitals, research institutes and associated institutions and the Assembly of Health Care Professional Association (AHPA).
As the strike continues and the deadlock remains, the impact on the healthcare system becomes increasingly concerning. The Federal Government and JOHESU must find a resolution to ensure the well-being of the populace and address the legitimate concerns of the health workers.