The Federal Government has reached an agreement with health workers under the auspices of Joint Health Sector Unions, thanks to the intervention of Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige (JOHESU).
The agreement was forced by JOHESU’s recent strike warning to the government over the latter’s failure to provide certain benefits due to health workers.
JOHESU had previously given the Federal Government a 15-day deadline to meet their demands or face a strike. However, after the meeting, which lasted about five hours, Ngige told journalists that they had productive discussions and that the Memorandum of Understanding would be signed this week.
He stated that they discussed all of the issues in dispute in a friendly manner and came to an agreement on all of them, including the increase in hazard allowance, the review of the retirement age from 60 to 65 years, the arrears of the consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage, and the upward adjustment of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) as done with the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS).
The Minister stated that they had no issues with the old issues, while the meeting agreed that the new issues should be discussed with their employer, the Federal Ministry of Health.
On the hazard allowance, Ngige recalled that the government had previously held four meetings with JOHESU and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), as well as their affiliates, but that there were some areas of disagreement.
He pointed out that NMA and a union previously thought to be a part of JOHESU demanded the compartmentalization of the hazard allowance discussions, which the government agreed to.
“We delivered to them (JOHESU) the financial implications of what is due to them based on previous discussions, and they promised to get back to their members and report back to us. The government, on the other hand, will meet with the NMA next week for a separate discussion on hazard allowance. The Federal Government has already set aside N37.5 billion for this purpose.
“The problem was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Some people want the public to believe that the government is delaying the hazard allowance. Government has been making concerted efforts for the past six months to bring the new hazard allowance into effect, which we are doing now except for a disagreement between NMA and JOHESU,” Ngige said.
On the proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65 years, Ngige said the meeting received reports from the Federation’s Head of Service and the Federal Ministry of Health, both of which agreed that the proposal was realistic.
“The matter has already been dealt with by the Federation’s Office of the Head of Service, which has then forwarded it to the National Council on Establishment for further processing at its meeting in December 2021,” he said.
According to Ngige, the meeting agreed to treat the issues of non-implementation of allowances included in the 2017 agreement holistically, including consequential minimum wage adjustments and skipping.
Concerning the non-adjustment of CONHESS as in CONMESS, he recalled that the matter was taken to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) for adjudication after a civil society organization filed a lawsuit, and the court remitted the matter back to JOHESU and its employer, the Federal Ministry of Health, for further discussion.
He said that if the discussions failed, they agreed to bring the matter back for conciliation, and that the meeting also resolved other issues raised by JOHESU, such as the 30% shift duty allowance for nurses and others, the payment of outstanding allowance to intern health professionals, and the payment of teaching allowance to JOHESU members on CONHESS 7.
He said the Council on Health was responsible for resolving issues affecting their members in state health institutions, and that the Federal Ministry of Health had been directed to receive them and forward them to the council.
On Thursday, JOHESU will meet with the Federal Ministry of Health to draft a framework for all of the discussions to begin, he added.
“We will be prepared to deal with all issues. However, because of the fragile state of the economy, we agreed that the principle of capacity to pay will guide all of our discussions,” the labour minister said.
In response, the President of JOHESU stated that “striking is not the way to go,” and expressed optimism that all of the unions’ concerns would be addressed positively.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Ministers of State, Olurunimbe Mamora (Health) and Festus Keyamo (Labour and Employment), Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Peter Tarfa, and his Health counterpart, Director General, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, and Chairman, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, Ekpo are among those attending the meeting from the government side.
Representatives from the Federation’s Accountant General, the Federation’s Head of Service, and IPPIS were also present.