Public health facilities were shutdown for almost two weeks in June. The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) commenced an indefinite strike action on June 20, this was after a 5-day warning strike earlier in May. The Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) the organised a 7-day warning strike, from June 23.
NARD was protesting the non-payment of salaries to resident doctors, particularly in states’ teaching hospitals where members of the association had not been paid for upwards of 10 months and poor funding of the residency training programme as well as the sacking of some of its members. The JOHESU warning strike was in furtherance of its demands for the implementation of the 2012 Collective Agreements reached with the Federal Government.
The state’s response to the NARD strike was repression. The Minister of Health declared that all striking doctors were sacked, the day after the strike commenced. The strike was called off a week after, in an attempt to ensure that resident doctors do not actually get sacked.
The case of JOHESU is a long drawn one. After years of negotiations, the joint platform which unites the five major unions representing workers in the sector and the Assembly of Health Professionals Association, a Collective Agreement was reached in 2012. The Federal Government refused to implement this. The National Industrial Court ruled that government was obliged to respect the agreement.
JOHESU has threatened t and actually did go on strike a number of times before the exit of the last government. The matter was taken up with the current government which claimed that it was not binding since it was reached with an earlier government. Meanwhile, billions of naira for oil marketers owed by the former government have been paid under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
This shows that the state is a continuum when the issues at stake are in the interests of the bosses. But for workers, every trick in the book is used to avoid implementation. When JOHESU threatened to go on strike earlier in February, the government appealed appealed to the unions to sheathe their sword, promising that the issues at stake would be looked into.
Some key demands of JOHESU which were covered in the 2012 Collective Agreement are: implementation of the circular for the promotion of health workers to CONHESS 15; payment of arrears of specialist allowances to qualified health professionals and; institutionalisation of residency training for health professionals towards improving the quality of healthcare delivery.
A new demand is for the upward review of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) which was established in 2010 and was due for review last year. The Federal Government made it categorically clear that it has no intent of carrying out this upward review.
This gives an insight into the likely disposition of the federal government to the NLC and TUC’s demand for an upward review of the national minimum wage to N56,000. It is likely to come up with the same claims that it cannot afford this. But legislators and top management staff in the public service continue to draw huge amounts as salaries. That can be afforded!
JOHESU must not allow itself to be cajoled by the government. After its warning strike, mass mobilisation and planning for a long drawn indefinite strike action must commence, immediately. Socialist Worker fully agrees with the stance of JOHESU presented by its Chairperson, Comrade Biobelemoye Josiah that such a mass strike must not be limited to “sitting at home” but would include street protests and rallies to build workers’ power and drum up popular support.
There is a pressing need for concerted efforts in the health sector if the government. The persistent divide between medical practitioners’ associations and unions of other health workers does not augur well for an all out fight against the bosses. Considering the fact that this has gone on for a long time now, such unification in struggle might not come easily. But, there is much more that binds all workers and professionals in the health sector than what divides them.
United we stand and divided we fall. For an all out struggle to defeat the bosses and their governments on one hand and to fight for significant improvement in public healthcare delivery, JOHESU and NARD/NMA have to take the first steps now, towards constituting a broad front.
by Nnamdi Ikeagu