By Johnbosco Agbakwuru – Abuja
The Federal Government has reached a truce with aggrieved health workers under the umbrella of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), an assembly of healthcare professions.
A statement issued by Charles Akpan, Deputy Director, Press, in the Ministry of Labour and Employment said that an understanding was reached by both parties after a conciliation meeting at the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.
Recall that JOHESU had earlier issued a 15-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to meet their demands or face strike.
But, briefing journalists after the meeting which lasted about five hours, Ngige said they held fruitful discussions, assuring that the Memorandum of Understanding would be signed next week .
He said they discussed in a fraternal way and reached an understanding on all the issues in dispute, including the enhancement of hazard allowance, review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years, the arrears of the consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage and upward adjustment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) as done with Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS).
The Minister disclosed that they had no problems with the old issues while the meeting agreed that the new issues should return to their employer, the Federal Ministry of Health for discussions.
On the hazard allowance, Ngige recalled that the Government held four meetings earlier with JOSEHU and NMA alongside their affiliates, but at a point there were areas of departure.
He noted that NMA and a union hitherto thought to be part of JOHESU, demanded for the compartmentalization of the discussions on the hazard allowance, which the Government granted.
According to him, “Based on previous discussion, we delivered to them (JOHESU) the financial implication of what is due to them and they promised to get back to their members and report back to us.
“On the other hand, the Government is meeting with NMA next week for their separate discussion on hazard allowance. Already the Federal Government has budgeted the sum of N37.5 B for this.
“The issue was resolved to the satisfaction of all of us. Government is not delaying the hazard allowance as some people want the public to believe.
“Since the past six months, Government has been making concerted efforts to push the new hazard allowance into effect, which we are doing now but for disagreement between NMA and JOHESU.”
On the upward review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years, Ngige said the meeting received reports from the office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Health, which both agreed on the realism of the proposal.
He stated that “The matter has already been handled by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation which has, in turn, transmitted same to the National Council on Establishment for further processing at its meeting in December 2021”
Ngige said the meeting agreed that the issues of non-implementation of allowances contained in the 2017 agreement, such as consequential minimum wage adjustment and skipping would be taken holistically.
Regarding the non-adjustment of CONHESS as done in CONMESS, he recalled that the matter went to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for adjudication, following litigation engendered by a civil society organisation and the court remitted the issue back to JOHESU and its employer, the Federal Ministry of Health for discussion.
He said that they agreed at the meeting that if the discussions fail, the matter should be brought back for conciliation, adding that the meeting further resolved that other issues brought up by JOHESU, such as the 30 per cent of shift duty allowance to nurses and others, payment of outstanding allowance to intern health professionals, payment of teaching allowance to JOHESU members on CONHESS 7 and 8, as well as skipping arrears should be handled expeditiously by FMH.
He noted that the resolution of issues affecting their members in the state health institutions was for the Council on Health, adding that the Federal Ministry of Health has been directed to receive them and forward them to the council.
He added that JOHESU will meet with the Federal Ministry of Health on Thursday to draw up a framework for all the discussions to start.
He said, “We will be ready to address all the issues. But we agreed that as a result of the perilous state of economy, the principle of capacity to pay will guide all our discussion.”
Responding, the President of JOHESU, noted that “strike is not the way to go,” and expressed optimism that all issues raised by the unions would be positively attended to.
Others at the meeting from the Government side include the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, Ministers of State, Olurunimbe Mamora (Health) and Festus Keyamo (Labour and Employment), Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Peter Tarfa, and his Health counterpart, Director General, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze and Chairman, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta.
Also in attendance were representatives of the Account General of the Federation, the Head of Service of the Federation and IPPIS.