Implementation of no work, no pay selective —JOHESU boss
The Chairman of Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and National President of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Josiah Biobelemoye, led the leadership of JOHESU to meet with President Mohammadu Buhari, recently at the Presidential Villa. The meeting discussed some issues affecting the health sector, discrimination and the plights of their members within the sector in general and especially that of their members at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, where genuine whistle blowers against corruption, became the victims. In this interview, Biobelemoye gives insights into some of their discussions with President Buhari. SOJI-EZE FAGBEMI, presents details.
Historic Meeting with President Buhari?
Yesterday was a historic day for the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU). We have been looking for this opportunity for about five years, since the inception of the current government. As you know, people are strong in faith, believers of God’s time and God’s time was yesterday. We had the opportunity to meet with him. And as to what was our mission? Our mission was to inform his Excellency; to give him first-hand information about certain key happenings in the health sector so that these things when they come to him, even if he has had them by way of memo, we will be there to explain. Explanation, you know advances the course of solving problems. Hence, we decided to see him. Despite the negative cast on JOHESU as a troublesome group of persons, we are not.
COVID-19 and Health Workers?
We also appreciated the President for releasing funds to enable the ministry tackle COVID-19, which is a global menace and Nigeria also has her own fair share of it. We pray it doesn’t go beyond that now. Our major concern as par COVID-19 is that our members are the first respondents whenever an issue arises. They are the ones that are the gateway, to determine first, whether the body temperature of persons coming into the country is normal or not through test and diagnosis. That is the first stage. Those who carry out the test are still our members. It is not just by mere looking at the person, the medical practitioner will determine whether you’re COVID-19 positive or not. You have to go through the analysis level and that is again through the laboratory, those who do that are still our members. Even prior to establishing that the patience is infected by the virus, and after it is established, where the person stays after, the care givers there, the nurses that will attend to the person are still our members. So, from every aspect you’ll see that our members are there. They are in forefront at every stage as the first respondents. So, we are very particular about how well our members are going to be protected so that in trying to give their help, let not import problems to ourselves.
That’s why we went to the President and we are happy he responded positively. So far so good, we are not as threatened as other countries, even countries that are more advanced than us are getting better share of it than us.
General Hiccups in Nigeria Heath System?
The other issue relates generally to the hiccups in the health system. Graciously for some time now, it has been quiet. I want to assure Nigerians that it is not because there are no problems that we are quiet but because we always have deep concerns for Nigerians. We know that it is only the public health sector that can be affordable for a common Nigerian. We are very reluctant at obstructing the process of work in the public health systems. There is no strike we have embarked upon that we started within the regulatory 21-day notice. There was a time we kept shifting for 91 days thinking that the government will respond appropriately. Even the last one, was 65 days. We are very much concerned, contrary to the view in some quarters that we are trigger happy with strikes. Since 2018, our members were denied their April and May salaries. Look at the distance till now, from 2018 to now. If we now say we are embarking on industrial action, people will not know we have endured right from 2018 to this present day. Why would somebody say we are enduring, is it not the law that says “No work no pay?” and then you’ll also ask, is it not the law that allow the right to strike? Secondly, if somebody says no work no pay, the maker of the law does not intend to make the law to intimidate the workers. It is not supposed to serve as a tool to make the workers slaves.
That April and May salary issue is a hot item, and it is capable of sparking uproar in the system because our members feel, and they have the right to feel so because no work no pay rule is being implemented selectively. Other sectors in the Nigerian workforce have also gone on strike, medical doctors went on strike, as we speak now, they have been paid. LUTH went on strike for six months, just like we did but they got their salaries. That is discrimination. That money, our people feel it is unjustly taken away from them because first, we met the conditions for strike, went beyond the conditions, to look for peace, but the peace was denied. We are not slaves. This is where we are in that aspect.
CONHESS Adjustment/Equal Salary with Doctors
The other item that is another trigger is the CONHESS adjustment. For clarity, let me say it again that the view held by many because they were misinformed, that what we are asking for is equal salary with Doctors, it’s not true. Salary structures are made with basic salaries. On the other side, outside the health sector, there is a salary structure called CONMESS, an architect, engineer, lawyer, they are using the CONMESS, executive officers are also using CONMESS. Administrative officers too.
The grades are there and the basics are equal. If a clerk who is not a graduate rises after a number of years, may be 15 to 20 years, he rises to grade level 9 which is the entry point of an architect, engineer or a professional accountant. If this man as a school certificate holder having worked for 15 years or more, and he gets promoted to level 9, the fresh entrant and him, their basic will be the same. Also, as for the lawyers, and the engineers, it will be the same. That has not warranted the government to say that because a clerk with school certificate haven spent 15 years has risen to level 9 and he is now going to earn the same basic with a fresh graduate of architecture or engineering, they should create a different structure for him.
So what they are calling equal salary structure is a basic that was determined in 2009 in a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) where the two structures were determined and it was said that whenever you adjust one of them, it must also result to the adjustment of the other so as to maintain the relativity. It is based on that when they touched the CONMESS you have debased the relativity, so we demand they resolve the relativity. So, for a level 9 CONHESS person, if his basic is N10, 000 and his equivalent, and you’ve now taken it to N12, 000, we’re now saying make other too N12, 000.
But the relativity between the doctors and other health workers is determined by the point of entrance. For instance, a first degree graduate with MBBS as a medical doctor, having spent 6 years in school, one year houseman-ship and one year NYSC, when he finishes and comes to service, he goes into level 12, while a nurse who does 5 years academics, one year internship and one year NYSC; 7 years while the doctor is 8 years, enters at grade level 8. This, we are saying is not appropriate.
You’ll see that the difference in training period was one year but the medical doctor has entered at level 12 while nurse entered at level 8. Other graduate officers entered at level 8 and pharmacist at level 10. Now, if you compare the nurse from level 8, for her to get to level 12, she needs 9 years in service.
Plight of workers at FMC Owerri?
I will say their plight is still very pitiable because some of them have been denied salaries for 4 months because of their anti-corruption stance. Some of them were also denied promotions. But the sad aspect of it is this; the government called us that we should come out and fight corruption and we answered to the call. I am not blaming the President because he can’t be everywhere, but the Federal Ministry of Health that managed the process at that time was never on the same page with the President. So, what did they do? Rather than rewarding the whistle blowers, having blown a genuine whistle they decided to intimidate and punish our members. Haven proved our case, the EFCC came in and investigated the case. It corroborated our matters and even got more than we blew, preferred charges. Whatever happens at that level is not our concern any more. The issue is, we blew a whistle and the EFCC confirmed the whistle. If whatever happened in the court “technically” is not something that we should be punished for and rather than the ministry supporting the course of fighting corruption, the ministry decided to punish the people for blowing the whistle? To crown it all, rumours started that they wanted to return the same person that has been sent on administrative leave and have been found wanting by the EFCC investigation and other things.
For instance, the unauthorised virement that was done, the virement was also done at the wrong time. The law forbids virement done beyond October 10. But it started in December and was processed. It should have been approved by the National Assembly, but it wasn’t. The processes were wrong. Whereas, there are personnel issues that needed attention and the people said no, they wouldn’t take it and they blew a whistle and yet you said nothing was wrong there. Money was diverted.
Over N100 million for project that was confirmed finished When we got there, even a grass was not removed. Yet our numbers were punished. Why were they punished? They said they wanted to return that same persons back to managing that place and the members said why would they bring such person back. What is the aim? As far as we are concerned, you are bringing this person back to come and mutilate the exhibit and evidence. You’re bringing this person to come and intimidate, victimise. Therefore, we would not agree. When EFCC indicted, filed charges and arraigned this person you want to bring them back to continue, we said no we can’t agree.
That was why in support of the anti-corruption war, we embarked on that strike, and because we have embarked on strike, an officer of the ministry of health then moved down to FMC Owerri and assembled the workers and said if you want to continue with the anti-corruption fight, come this way, and those who said they want to work with the Medical Director move the other way. And nobody moved, then he said, so all of you want to fight corruption, and they all answered yes. Then he said, you all should be reminded and warned that if you say you want to fight corruption, you stand to lose your salaries, and also know you stand to lose your promotions.
Then they went back and concocted a promotion exercise to break the rank of JOHESU, and the anti-corruption brigade. So, they went back and instituted the plan for promotion exercise, and we intercepted and wrote that we are on strike. Why would you come and conduct promotion exercise? Except the promotion exercise is intended to be exclusionary. They did not heed our call to order, and they went ahead and conducted a promotion exercise. They advertised, put the date and went ahead to conduct the exercise. When they saw that the turnout was not okay, they postponed it. Then they started calling the HODs and started intimidating the HODs to call some people, else they would be removed from the HODs position. With that kind of intimidation, they now called people that came for the exercise and they did the interview. At the end, the people that stood out to support the anti-corruption strike were over 1,000 members. But gradually, they started using persuasive intimidation and said if you abandon the anti-corruption strike, you would get your salary and promotion. So, over 300 members crossed over gradually.
So, if you say people did not go to work and so you’re stopping their salaries for no work no pay, what prompted those ones that were on strike with us for months to be paid because they suddenly denounced the anti-corruption fight.
Those who said Nigeria system must be good are now like 700. As I speak with you, those people are still denied their salary and their promotion. So, we are using this medium to call again. Specifically, we call on President Buhari to see to this issue.