Nigerian hospital workers indefinite strike – in Zimbabwe 16,000 striking nurses return defiant

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NIGERIA’S nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals on Sunday declared an indefinite strike at federal hospitals under the auspices of the Joint Health Sectors Unions (JOHESU). The federal government said it will invoke the ‘no work no pay rule’ rule if the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) do not suspend the ongoing strike, which has crippled health care delivery in parts of the country.

JOHESU has called the bluff of the federal government’s threat and is continuing with the strike.

Reacting to the threat, the JOHESU President Josiah Biobelemoye, in a press briefing last Friday in Abuja said the government’s ‘No work No Pay’ policy was a diversionary tactic which would not hold water. He further accused the ministry of Health of having an ‘unholy alliance’ with the Nigerian Medical Association geared towards thwarting efforts of the union to achieve its demands from the government.

Biobelemoye told reporters: ‘We wish to draw the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the general public to the discriminatory, suppressive and oppressive attitude of the drivers of the health sector to all health workers other than medical doctors in managing health care delivery in Nigeria.

‘It’s on record that patients are always hurriedly discharged and diverted to their private clinics whenever medical doctors are on strike and thereby preventing other health workers from performing their duties and nothing like locum doctors employed to serve the public nor registers opened to enforce compliance; while the policy of “No Work No Pay” has never been applied to the strike mongers who call themselves medical doctors.’

Chief among what the union is asking of the government is salary adjustments, a demand Nigerian doctors have vehemently opposed, warning the government that acceding to such demand would precipitate a crisis that may lead to the collapse of the health sector of the country.

JOHESU National Vice Chairman Ogbonna Chimela called on well-meaning Nigerians including traditional leaders, elder statesmen, opinion leaders and the general public to prevail on government to implement Memorandum of Terms of Settlement (MOTS) entered into with JOHESU on September 30, 2017.

The union noted that its main demands included an upward review of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure, (CONHESS) employment of additional health workers, the implementation of court judgments and the upward review of the retirement age from 60 to 65.

JOHESU President Josiah Biobelemoye recalled that the union suspended its last nationwide strike on September 30, 2017, after signing a (MOTS), with the federal government.

Chimela disclosed that the condition for calling off last year’s strike was that JOHESU’s demands would be met in five weeks.

Chimela said: ‘Before now we gave the government 21 working days as an ultimatum.’ But the workers said the government has failed to act on its six months after. He further stated that the union had earlier given the federal government a 21-day ultimatum which yielded no result after the agreement was not implemented.

He explained that on Thursday, April 5, 2018, the minister of Labour and Employment, invited the leadership of JOHESU to a meeting wherein they were told that their issues were still being looked into.

The union said: ‘States and Local Government Health Institutions are by this placed on red alert and are to continue intense sensitisation and mobilisation of our members for possible entry into the fray if the government foot drags in attending to our demands.’

The JOHESU is made up of: Medical and Health Workers Unions of Nigeria (MHWUN), National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIA), Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutes (NASU). CONHESS has been implemented for the medical doctors since 2009, Chimela said, with other health workers left in limbo.

• Nurses in Zimbabwe have scored a major victory with the government hiring a number of unemployed nurses and reversing dismissal letters of almost 6‚000 other nurses that were fired after downing tools. On Monday the government accepted all the nurses back and it was business as usual again‚ despite a pending urgent court application by nurses challenging their dismissal.

‘We are happy that nurses have been taken back unconditionally because their grievances are valid‚’ said Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) secretary general‚ Enock Dongo. The nurses returned to work after ZINA called off a strike against poor working conditions.

Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga last week announced the sacking of 16,000 striking nurses, accusing them of a ‘politically motivated’ walkout. ZINA said on Saturday that the strike by its members had become ‘politicised’.

Calling on its members to report for duty by Monday, ZINA said in a statement: ‘To pave way for the re-opening of negotiations and protection of our workers, we have decided to call off the industrial action.’ The nurses dismissed as ‘misleading’ that the government had addressed their concerns.

‘Our grievances which relate to poor and dangerous working conditions, which threaten our health and affects the discharge of our duties, remain unaddressed,’ they said.

‘The $17 144 446 referred to by the Vice-President in his press statement as having been transferred to the ministry of health relates to arrears allowances dating back to 2010. It is in no way related to our current demands that triggered the collective job action.’ The union said it had filed a court application to force the government to reverse its decision to fire the nurses.

The nurses’ strike came days after junior doctors wrapped up a month-long walkout over pay and working conditions.

The Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA), stated that the union had taken note of the governmental statement, saying: ‘We shall approach the High Court on an urgent basis to protect our rights.’

Nurses are demanding better pay and improved health services.

Simangaliso Mafa, president of ZINA, said the government had acted in ‘bad faith’ and that their action was not procedural. Mafa said last Tuesday: ‘We only heard about the firing on the television; the pronouncement was not communicated formally so we are currently engaging our stakeholders and we are following our procedures so we can interrogate the decision and further act.’

ZINA, last Wednesday evening, issued a follow-up statement, detailing its resilience, adding that its members had not received any letter terminating their services by the HSB, which is their employer.

The defiant nurses in the country were on strike, demanding better pay and improved health services.

‘We’re doing this to demonstrate that individuals are around for the people,’ said Mugudza, a nurse based in Harare Central Hospital, after healing members of those who’d gathered at Africa Unity Square adjacent to Zimbabwe’s parliament building on Sunday. ‘All we are requesting is for our working conditions. We cannot be looking on at people dying in hospitals simply because individuals don’t have any resources,’ she explained.

‘We would like to function, however, we were barred from entering our work channels,’ she added.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, led by Takavafira Zhou, has planned a ‘solidarity campaign’ that would see teachers go on strike next month. The project is being fanned under the line, ‘Teachers are their own liberators: its game on second term 2018.’