September 28, 2020

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The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, has appealed to the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) to call off their ongoing strike action in the interest of the public and the health emergency triggered by COVID-19.

Mr Ehanire at the bi-weekly Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday urged the JOHESU leadership to halt the industrial action and go into negotiation with government as that is the only way their demands could be met.

A meeting between JOHESU and the government on Thursday ended in a deadlock leading to the health worker’s decision to down tools on Monday.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the union said it would embark on a nationwide seven-day warning strike if the government failed to meet its demands, which include payment of hazard and inducement allowance, by midnight of Sunday, September 13.

JOHESU said the warning strike will only involve federal institutions while the states and local government health institutions would be “on red alert for possible entry into the fray if the federal government foot-drags in attending to our demands.”

Meanwhile, labour minister, Chris Ngige, in a statement titled, ‘FG declares JOHESU strike is unnecessary, ill-timed and illegal’ had questioned the legality of the union’s decision.

The minister expressed regrets that the health workers downed tools, saying he had “apprehended the dispute” with the conciliation initiated last Thursday, which is still ongoing.

A statement on Sunday by the labour ministry’s spokesperson, Charles Akpan, said the strike was illegal as “it is in clear breach of the International Labour Organisation Principles and Conventions on Strike and sec. 18 of the Trades Disputes Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.

It urged JOHESU not to arm-twist or intimidate the FG “that has shown a clear commitment to tackling the challenges in the sector as evidenced by the huge resources it has been pouring into the sector since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

“Parties in disputes are expected not to arm-twist, intimidate or foist helplessness on the other party while negotiations are ongoing as per sections 8 and 18 of the Trade Dispute Act 2004 barring any strike when the matters are before a conciliator and undergoing conciliation.”

Meanwhile, Mr Ehanire who took a softer stance on Monday said the position of the Ministry of Health is that “strikes by healthcare workers jeopardise the lives of citizens, especially at such times of global health emergencies as now.

“Nigeria needs the service of all our health workers to control the spread of COVID-19. Issues around allowances are multi-sectoral and have always been served with negotiations no matter how long it took,” he noted.

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The JOHESU strike came shortly after the suspension of a three-day-old strike by resident doctors.

Mr Ehanire said it is gratifying that the National Association of Resident Doctors called off the strike, but “unhelpful that the Joint Health Sector Union has begun theirs.

“I acknowledge the commitment of health workers who continue to man the frontlines in the fight against this disease and use this opportunity to appeal to JOHESU to suspend their industrial action, not to erode gains we have since made in health care delivery.”

JOHESU’s position

In a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday afternoon, the national chairman of JOHESU, Ogbonna Chimela, said the unions were irked the more after Mr Ngige on Thursday threatened them with, “no work no pay” policy should they embark on an industrial action.

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