The lingering issues over poor working conditions due to unpaid allowances, among others are being viewed with serious concern by workers of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Members operating under the umbrella of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), have once again threatened to embark on a nationwide strike action that would paralyse the activities of the agency should the management fail to listen to them, writes BOLA BADMUS.
These are not favourable times for NAFDAC as members of the agency are threatening to once again down tools. The workers, operating under the umbrella union of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), on June 22, rose from its general meeting to mandate its congress to shut down its offices across the country should the management fail to listen to them.
The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), an Agency set up by the Federal Government and authorised to regulate and control the importation, exportation, manufacture, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, bottled water and chemicals in the country, has been mainly in the news for wrong reasons for some time now, all because members of staff of the agency are not finding the workplace comfortable any longer. Due to this, a long sustained strike action that will culminate in the shutdown of the office nationwide is being planned by members of staff through their union, Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN).
But meanwhile, the union leadership, who has since issued this threat, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, appoint a substantive director-general for the agency in order to avert trouble.
Chairman of the union, Comrade Peter Joseph Anzaku, while making the appeal during a recent media parley in Lagos, said that the workers had endured for too long the debilitating conditions of service in the agency as opposed to better treatment their counterparts working in much similar agencies were enjoying, lamenting that all the grievances of the staff tabled before the immediate past director-general, Dr. Paul Orhii, with the intervention of the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, had been jettisoned by the current administration of NAFDAC headed by Mrs Yetunde Oluremi Oni.
According to Anzaku, the agency is now in a comatose state as it could not run most of its activities smoothly, accusing the current acting DG, Mrs. Yetunde Oluremi Oni, as being part of the problems that had occasioned the workers to go on strike many times in recent past.
The union chairman, therefore, demanded that the acting DG should go on her terminal leave before the agency is plunged into further mess.
He said the union was making such demand because the acting DG had refused to honour the minister’s order to solve all the internal crises in the drug house and provide a template for the salary structure for workers, despite the intervention of all the stakeholders on the plight of the staff.
“A letter has been sent to the management in which the union gave a week ultimatum to address all the issues holistically. Failure to act, the union would have no other option than to embark on an indefinite strike. That, however, seems to be the only language the management understands,” Anzaku added.
MHWUN, through its congress, is also demanding an upward review of Job Specification Allowances as approved by the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission. Other demands, according to the union, include: immediate implementation of skipping of Consolidated Research and Allied Institute Salary Structure (CONRAISS) as directed by the extant circular of November 4, 2015. The union said this is based on the National Industrial Court judgment in favour of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) and the non-payment of eight months pension arrears from May to December, 2011.
“The conditions that we are passing through are simply appalling and will no longer be tolerated. Staff morale has never been this low, coupled with the insensitivity of the leaders to the plight of the workers. We believe the time has come for us to take the bull by the horn and fight this cause to a logical condition.
“Our motto, ‘Safeguarding health of the nation,’ seems to have been compromised because of misplaced priority by the top management. NAFDAC generates about nine to 12 billion naira every year and to our understanding, 75 per cent of the funds normally should go for recurrent expenditure. But that is not the case. There are no capital projects that we are witnessing, which makes us come to the reality that the condition of service for us is a mirage,” the union leader said.
Anzaku, however, contended that the absence of a board in NAFDAC had set the organisation backward.
He said this had resulted in the workers being owed 13 months arrears to date, adding that, “Contractors are honoured more than staff members at NAFDAC and this is among our grievances.”
“We are highly resolved that this effort will be a huge success. We will also press for the acting DG to proceed on terminal leave having served her term,” Anzaku declared.
Anslem Okonkwo of the Public Relations Unit of NAFDAC in a swift reaction stated that “There is no serious issue with the management and the union. Like every other organisation, agitations would come and they would be addressed. The management and union are always engaging in dialogue.But towards the end of last year, there were some issues that they could not resolve before the new acting DG came on board. The dialogue is still ongoing. The management is trying to address some of the issues.
“The issue of allowances that they talked about is under salaries and wages commission. We cannot approve allowances on our own without government approval. It becomes effective with a circular. If a verbal approval is given, one must wait for a circular to make it effective. The discussions are ongoing. The agency is not in a comatose state.”
It will be recalled that on October 28, 2015, MHWUN gave a seven-day ultimatum to its management to address their welfare issues or face the consequences.
Incidentally on November 12, 2015, the workers made good their threat and embarked on a total strike. Following the move, the union had succeeded in shutting down the premises against management and the general public nationwide, thereby, paralysing all activities in the drug house.
While the threat lasts, one expects that the relevant stakeholders would rise to the occasion.