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NIGERIA: [HCWs protests poor industrial relations] Waiting for respite in the health sector

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  • NIGERIA: [HCWs protests poor industrial relations] Waiting for respite in the health sector

    SHA?ABAN 18, 1429 A.H. - THURSDAY AUGUST 21 2008

    Waiting for respite in the health sector
    By Chukwuma Muanya

    IT would be one strike too many for the restive health sector, if health workers ever decide to down tools now.

    Faced with worsening health statistics, the resurgence of polio and bird flu and, with no substantive Health Minister in the country, experts believe that the nation cannot afford any strike now in theor unions include:
    • Medical and Health Workers Union (MHWUN);
    • Senior Staff Association, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM);
    • Non Academic Staff Union of Education & Associated Institutions (NASU);
    • Nigeria Union of Pharmacists, Medical Scientists and Professionals Allied to Medicine (NUMPTPAM);
    • Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions of Nigeria (SSAUTHRIAI), among others.
    The workers are demanding among other things-
    * the immediate payment of their monetization arrears between 2003 and 2005,
    * recall of their members disengaged under the ongoing health sector reforms,
    * immediate settlement of outstanding pension/gratuity to retirees,
    * establishment of Pension Guarantee Security Commission;
    * enhancement of health care services, payment of shift duty allowance,
    * appointment of new Minister of Health and Minister of State for Health;
    * restructuring/re-organisation of the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the need to urgently review Decree 10 of 1985 and incorrect payment of 15 per cent increase on Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Structure (CONTISS).

    The Unions condemned the non-inclusion of health care services in the seven point agenda of Mr. President and appealed to Mr. President to expand his seven point agenda to include health.

    Chairman MHWUN Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Comrade Isiaka Busari and his Secretary, comrade Richard Afolabi told The Guardian:

    "The Federal Government has agreed to pay us but they have not given us any specific time. It is like the Ministry of Health has not prepared its mind and given us a tentative date when they are going to pay us. We only had Minister of Labour and Productivity, that is Dr. Hassan Lawal, who attended the meeting on Tuesday July 29 and appealed to the health workers. This time around, the best solution is to bring out the money and pay us."

    "We have been delaying the strike because we know we are dealing with human lives. But it is unfortunate that the Ministry of Health does not know that. The decision to go on strike is a joint decision of all the health workers except the medical doctors," he added.

    Afolabi regretted that if it was the lawmakers that were concerned, they would have fetched the money from anywhere to solve the problem. He said that the health sector is in a state of disarray now. "No Minister, Minister of State for Health, Permanent Secretary not available. We are under another ministry, which is not making things happen as they should. But for now, as far as this issue is concerned, the main crux is the monetization arrears," Busari said.

    Busari said although the Union has so many other demands, the main issue now is monetization arrears. He explained:

    "The Federal Government approved monetization policy in December 2003 to take effect from October 1, 2003. The problem is that the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) implemented this from October 1, 2005, instead of government approval with effect from October 1, 2003. And now we are appealing to FMOH to give us the balance, from 2003 up to 2005 that is two years arrears. But they kept promising".

    Chairman, MHWUN Lagos Chapter, Comrade Stephen Nwokenta Ibe, at the union's secretariat in Surulere, Lagos said that they are also asking the Federal Government to call back all sacked staff last year.

    Chairman, NANNM LUTH Chapter, Comrade Olugbenga Ajala, said although nurses are part of essential services, they are human beings, and it does not prevent them from joining the strike, but only as the very last option.

    On why the monetization arrears has not been paid by the Federal Government, a source at the Federal Ministry of Health, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that government was being careful not to provoke a chain reaction from some other sectors yet to benefit from the monetisation package.

    But Busari said "other ministries have collected theirs. So let them pay us our money and leave us with our work."

    On the appointment of a new minister, the source stated that there has been a lot of pressure and lobbying to ensure that the status quo is maintained for as long as possible by those benefiting from the uncoordinated system currently in operation at the ministry.

    The source said: "The truth of the matter is that there has been a lot of pressure and power-play by those benefiting from the current system. Some people want to swap positions at the ministerial level because they perceive the ministry as 'Grade A' ministry that is juicy in terms of what accrues to their pockets".

    But Babafemi said the NMA has sent a number of names to the federal government for consideration for a health minister. "As we speak, a number of names are being screened for the post of the Health Minister. We are aware of the vacuum that exists with the absence of a substantive Health Minister. We hope that a new minister will be appointed soon", he said.

    Babafemi, however, said a medical doctor is most appropriate for the post of Health Minister. "A doctor is a natural leader in the health sector. If you go to a hospital, the main person you ask for is the doctor. Can you imagine a hospital without a doctor?" he asked.

    The Health workers in a letter dated July 29, 2008, which was copied to The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, The Presidency, Minister of Health, Minister of Labour, and The Head of Service of the Federation had noted: "As health workers, who find it extremely difficult to explore strikes as means of achieving our aims, knowing the consequences of such on the health status of Nigerians, and in honour of Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, the national leaderships of the unions, hereby give another and final notice, which will expire by 5th August, 2008 from the date of this letter, within which the Federal Government of Nigeria is expected to have addressed the issues raised.

    "However, if by midnight of 5th August, 2008, the Federal Government of Nigeria fails to show any serious commitment to addressing the issues, the health sector unions will embark on a three-day warning strike from 6th August, 2008. The unions will have no option than to consider indefinite total action, if the health sectors unions' demands are not met after the warning strike."

    A communique issued by the Joint Union read in part: "The unions observe that since the Minister and Minister of State of Health resigned, there have not been other substantive ministers to run the ministry. The unions, therefore, urge Mr. President to appoint new ministers without further delay. And also urge him to consider medical and other health professionals with good antecedents while considering who becomes the next ministers."

    Busari said the joint unions would totally call off the strike only when Federal Government meets their demands. "Honestly our members are very agile people, ready to work. If they respond to us today, definitely our National Headquarters will give counter directive and we will obey it and call off the strike", he said.

    Busari said the Committee set up by the Federal Government has only two weeks 'to perform', "that is pay us our money or tell us when our money will be paid or we go on an indefinite strike."

    Babafemi called on former NMA Presidents and elders in the health sector to wade into the crisis at Lagos NMA and other issues in the health sector to avoid a total collapse.