On Thursday, Nigerian healthcare workers organized under the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and Assembly of Healthcare Professional Associations (AHPA) directed all its members across all Federal Health Institutions to commence a nationwide indefinite strike. Following a meeting of JOHESU National Executive Council (NEC), Dr. Obinna Ogbonna, National Vice Chairman of JOHESU explained to the press that the strike was necessary since the federal government had failed to address the workers’ complaints despite numerous requests.
He said that the Federal Ministry of Health casual, unfair and apathetic treatment of JOHESU members led to a resolution from the Joint Health Sector Unions’ expanded National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on May 8, 2023, instructing members to withdraw their services indefinitely. According to Dr. Ogbonna, the Adjustment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) and the payment of special allowances to healthcare workers under the jurisdiction of JOHESU/AHPA are two grounds of the issue.
Payment for workers exempted in the new hazard allowances is demanded.
Other demands includes immediate and unconditional implementation of the Consultant Cadre Circular for Pharmacists in all Federal Health Institutions, payment of all withheld salaries of their members in Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri; Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH); Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and outstanding April and May, 2018 salaries of members in Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Azare. In addition, they demanded payment for healthcare workers who are exempted in the payment of the new hazard allowances.
Dr. Ogbonna stated that the federal government had agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on relativity between the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) for all health workers besides physicians and the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) for physicians in the adjustment of the CONHESS Scale as was done with CONMESS Scale in 2009. According to him, the MoU signified that any changes made to one wage structure would result in an equivalent adjustment being made to the other.
NSIWC estimate was never brought to the president for approval.
Be aware that the federal government made a comprehensive change to the CONMESS Scale on January 2, 2014, and made another selective change to the scale in 2017 that only affected physicians, but not the CONHESS scale that affects all other health professionals. Despite efforts by a federal government team led by two physicians —the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, and the then Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole—negotiations on this issue broke down in 2018 and this has continued till today.
Dr. Ogbonna disclosed that the federal government team’s final offer of N6.5 billion fell far short of the N22.6 billion calculated by the National Salaries, Incomes, and Wages Commission (NSIWC) in accordance with the 2017 Terms of Settlement and was therefore rejected. He also mentioned that the National Assembly’s leadership stepped in and mediated an intervention, promising to make room in the extra budget for federal government approvals of CONHESS. He further clarified that the NSIWC estimate was never brought to the president for approval, despite widespread speculation that President Muhammadu Buhari had vetoed the expenditure of N22.6 billion.
Unions urged the new government to appoint competent professionals.
Medical associations that run the Federal Ministry of Health are using deceptive means to influence healthcare policies and practice for their own benefit, he added. Unions representing healthcare workers held a protest in Abuja on Wednesday, calling on Buhari to promptly approve and implement the recommendations of the Technical Committee Report on the adjustment of CONHESS. The unions had also urged the new government and the National Assembly, particularly the senators and representatives-elect, to appoint competent professionals with relevant experience to key positions in the healthcare sector.