President of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), Comrade Biobelemoye Joy Josiah, wants the Federal Government to ensure that health workers nationwide are fully equipped with the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) as part of efforts to contain the dreaded coronavirus disease. He also hinted at issues that could spark industrial action such as the withheld salaries of its members, and adjustment of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) among others.
Are you satisfied with the level of preparedness to contain the dreaded coronavirus disease in this country, especially as it affects your members?
This is one of the loose ends, 95% of the members of JOHESU are the ones that carry out health service deliveries across the nation. We are the first responders. There are complaints about the absence of the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and we also got reports about short staffing. You need to run 24-hour service and within the 24 hours, you don’t expect just one person to run a shift of eight hours; fatigue will set in. In that situation, meticulous attention would be lost. If you have just one person for a shift, that is not enough. Late preparations of the isolation centres, like the one in Abuja. The Senate president made a complaint, and there was outcry before the minister said isolation centre is now ready. We hope that other isolation centres where we have international entry points would all be ready before somebody shouts again.
If I’m well protected, I return home and my family is protected then whoever my family comes in contact with is also protected. But if I’m not protected, if I go to work and I am not protected and I pick the virus, because of the long incubation period, by the time people know that I have it, I may have come in contact with many people several times. Likewise, my family.
So if you don’t protect one health worker, you can easily spread the disease. For this reason, we’ll still say that nothing is too much.
Your members were denied salaries for April and May, how far have you gone on that?
Graciously for some time now, it has been quiet. I want to assure Nigerians that it is not because there are no problems that we are quiet but because we always have deep concerns for Nigerians. We know that it is only the public health sector that can be affordable for the common Nigerian. We are very reluctant to obstruct the process of work in the public health systems.
There’s no strike we’ve embarked upon that we started within the regulatory 21 days. There was a time we kept shifting for 91 days thinking that government will respond appropriately. Even the last one was 65 days. April, May salaries that were denied our members in 2018, look at the duration.
From 2018 to now, if we now say we are embarking on industrial action, people will not know we have endured right from 2018 to this present day.
Somebody said why are we enduring, is it not the law that says “no work no pay”, and then you’ll also ask that is it not the law that allows the right to strike?” Secondly, if somebody says no work no pay, let’s also state that the maker of the law does not intend to intimidate the worker. It’s not supposed to serve as a tool to make the workers slaves.
That April, May issue is a hot one that is capable of sparking uproar in the system because our members feel it and they have the right to. But the use of no work no pay rule is being implemented selectively. Other sectors in the Nigerian work force have also gone on strike – the medical sector went on strike – but as we speak now, they’ve been paid.
That money which our people feel was unjustly taken away from them because first, we met the conditions, even went beyond the conditions, to look for peace, but the peace was denied. We are not slaves. This is where we are in that aspect.
The other item that is another trigger is the CONHESS adjustment. For clarity, let me say it again that the view held by many, that what we are asking for is equal salary with doctors is not true. That was based on misinformation. So, what they are calling equal salary structure was a basic that was determined in 2009 in a CBA -Collective Bargaining Agreement – where the two structures were determined. So whenever one side is tinkered with, you also adjust the other so as to maintain the relativity. It is based on this when they touched the CONMESS they debased the relativity. So we demand they resort the relativity. They also requested the President’s intervention in adjustment of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS).
You were with the president recently, what transpired during the meeting?
Well, we appreciate the president for releasing funds to enable the health ministry tackle Covid-19, which is a global menace and Nigeria has already had her own first share of it. We pray it doesn’t go beyond that. They are in the forefront at every stage as the first responders.
So, we are very particular about how well our members are going to be protected so that in trying to give help let’s not import problems to ourselves.