Healthcare services in the Federal Government owned-institutions in Lagos were yesterday paralysed following the nationwide indefinite strike embarked upon by health workers under the aegis of the Joint Heath Sector Unions, JOHESU.
Meanwhile, the striking workers have vowed to continue with the action until the contentious Federal Government circular against the skipping of levels in the Consolidated Health Salary Scale, CONHESS 10, is withdrawn.
When Vanguard visited some of the hospitals in Lagos, only senior management staff and medical doctors were seen at their duty posts. Further inquiry, revealed that most of the nurses and some support staff, who were seen carrying files were all locum staff (casual workers).
The situation was the same in all the hospitals and agencies in Lagos. Other health workers in Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital, Federal Medical Centre Ebute Metta, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, among others, visited complied with the directive.
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, although, the strike was effective patients were not turned back as locum staff were on hand to attend to a number of them.
A patient, who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, hinted that only a few registered out- patients were being attended to.
“We have been waiting since morning but only a few of us have been attended to, but we are hoping that they would also attend to us.” All the record departments of the various hospitals were deserted.
Speaking to Vanguard on telephone, the Acting National Chairman, JOHESU, Comrade Felix Olukayode Faniran, said there was no going back on the strike. He argued that a week ago, the Minister of Health had insisted that the circular against skipping subsists.
Faniran, who alleged that out of the 10 demands made of the Federal government by JOHESU, umbrella body for health workers’ unions in the country, nothing had been done on the issue since July 16, 2012 to attend to the demands.
“We went on strike in May and the Presidency pleaded and after a meeting promised to attend to six out of the 10 demands and directed that four be sent to the technical committee. But by the 15th of July, nothing was done. When we got tired of the Ministry of Health, we decide to take it to the Industrial Court.
“While we were still waiting, the Minister issued circular that there would be no promotion from level 9 to 11, a benefit we have been enjoying since 1982. Why must this Minister want to reverse it? We wrote him two weeks ago to withdraw the circular but he refused. We decide to embark on strike till he withdraws the circular and address other issues.”
Faniran alleged government has not adhered to the tripartite agreement. “They have reneged on everything we asked for on the issue of CONHESS 10 and the statusquo remains,” he remarked.
On his part, the Lagos State Chairman of Health Workers Union, Comrade Ibe Stephen Nwokenta disclosed that the Union has already formed a monitoring group that would ensure that all the hospitals are shut down until what he described as ‘obnoxious circular’ is withdrawn.
He threatened: “By tomorrow all the branch members will move in group to all the branches, hospitals and agencies to make sure that all workers comply with the directives.
“We will ensure that even they so called locum staff which is already against the labour laws stopped working. We will fight to the last. We will ensure that no body plays with our right. Any branch found defaulting will be shutdown totally.”
Ibe described the refusal of the minister to withdraw the circular even after the ultimatum expired as insensitive to the plight of Nigerian workers.
The accused the federal ministry health of threatening the fragile peace in the health sector saying they have refused to abide by the agreements they entered into in May this year.
Speaking Chairman of the LUTH Health Workers Union, Comrade Isiaka Busari who claimed that the strike was effective at the hospital said the only people attending to patients are all locum staff which he said; the union has no power over them.
Busari condemned the casualisation of Nigerian workers, noting that it would automatically weaken the effectiveness of the strike.
Workers in Federal health institutions across the country had earlier petitioned the Presidency, urging it to prevail on the Minister of Health and management of Federal hospitals and other health centres to implement the July 16 agreement on staff welfare and other conditions of service to avoid industrial unrest.