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There's too wide gap between JOHESU and doctors -Sokoto JOHESU chairman.

To be honest I am not happy, you see ,when we talk of strike especially in sensitive places like hospitals, one knows the consequences that will follow it. Honestly, I am not happy, but we tried to let the state government understand that this problem is not an issue between the union and Sokoto State government, it is a national case. We have a union with vibrant leadership, and this union has organs and structures. We have the national body, the state body and the units. So, we tried to make the state government to understand that if it were a friction between it and us, of course we could come to terms. The state government has done everything humanly possible to let us continue our work but honestly, I am not happy as well. When we go on strike, the common man is always affected. So, we are not happy, it is just like when NUPENG, ASUU, ASUP, PENGASSAN and others go on strike. We know what we go through, it is pathetic but sometimes some leaders in this country do not understand workers' plight until they go on strike. I personally believe that we are supposed to have passed the era of strike.

Your state union did not join the strike at its commencement as directed by the national body. Why the delay?

We could not start our strike exactly at the expiration of the ultimatum given by the national leadership because my union usually celebrates the birth of the mother of nursing profession, Florence Nightingale, who was born in the month of May and she is being celebrated worldwide. Usually, we celebrate it in Abuja. So when the ultimatum was given by the national leadership, it coincided with the yearly celebration of the international nurses' week. While we were in Abuja, there were series of complaints and observations from individual chairmen that we should not declare strike over our respective states while we were in Abuja. So we decided to declare the strike in Abuja. We decided to allow the celebration in Abuja to end before joining the strike, so that people might not say we were callous by declaring a strike while we were making merry. That was what informed our decision not to commence the strike then.

Are your demands the same as that of your national body or you have a peculiar demands at state level?

We have peculiar demands in the state but that was not the genesis of the strike. As a labour leader, day in day out, demands will continue to flow and you cannot say they must be met all at a time. If the government meets some of the demands, of course, we would take them and continue negotiations. Talking about Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) in Sokoto State, some of our members were placed on this table but after three months, they were removed. As from then, they have been on HETISS and throughout the time of previous government, we were on negotiation which has not yielded any result. When the present government came onboard, we opened it up again and luckily, the government listened to us and those members were brought back to CONHESS level. Back to your question, this thing we are agitating for is national and it is going to affect every member of JOHESU, from the federal government down to the local government. Though there are some grievances that are only peculiar to our colleagues in the federal hospitals. Like issue of uniform allowance, it is peculiar to the people working in federal institutions. Like issue of promotions and arrears, it is peculiar to our colleagues in Federal Hospitals. Similarly, the issue of skipping is peculiar to the Federal Health institutions, but the remaining grievances like the adjustment of CONHESS to one hundred per cent, are our joint struggle. In the health sector we have two salary tables, we have COMESS, which is only for doctors alone, and then we have CONHESS which is for all health workers such as Laboratory Scientists, Pharmacists, Nurses, Radiologists, and Radiographers among others.

So, this CONHESS was adjusted twice in 2010 and 2014. In 2014, JOHESU confronted the Federal Government for upward review of CONHESS, this it has not done and this made us to go on strike.After the strike, government responded and we opened up negotiations. They came to terms with JOHESU and agreement was signed in November 2017, but along the line, the Nigeria Medical Association posed another threat that if government implemented the demand of JOHESU, they would resume their suspended strike. I think that was what created fears in the government and it refused to implement our agreement with it and now JOHESU is aggrieved that NMA is standing in its way. So, they decided to withdraw their services and allow the NMA to continue, that is what gave birth to this strike. Even when the demands were not met, JOHESU did not just jump to strike just like that, they still gave government ultimatum and it expired on February 28, 2018 and still they gave another extension to 30th of March 30 and nothing was done by government. This made JOHESU to write a special letter to declare strike which commenced on April 17, 2018, with only federal health institutions.

The two parties later went into negotiations, but there was no positive outcome that was why they directed states and all the local governments to join the strike. Like I said, the issue of adjustment of CONHESS is there, issue of point of entry is also. A medical officer when he comes out of medical school, he is employed on grade Level 12, while nurses will be employed on grade Level 8, Laboratory scientist will be on grade Level 10 and pharmacist will be on grade Level 9. So they think they can decide to bring divide and rule? All of us should be on the same grade level because a degree is a degree.

So, those who are coming from school of nursing start from grade Level 7, CONHESS 6, but if you have a degree you start on Level 8, but a doctor starts on Level 12. We know there is disparity in the years of training; they spend six years, when you add housemanship, it becomes seven years. In our case, we spend four years, when we go for NYSC, and then we go for internship. So we say the gap is too much from the point of entry. Then there is the issue of position, doctors have dominated everybody in the health sector. We have two ministers in the federal ministry of health, (senior and junior). Both of them are doctors. We have Director, Medical Science in the Federal Ministry of Health, he is a doctor. We have Director of Human Resources in the Federal Ministry of Health, he is a doctor. Commissioner of Health at state level, he is a doctor. Director of Medical Services at state level is doctor. Chief Medical Director of hospital is a doctor. All the Head of departments of the hospitals are doctors.

Is this your major demand?

It is just one of them, we want the Federal Government to put in place a neutral person to be the minister or commissioner, since there is no existing law that says it is only a doctor that can hold this type of position. Even the minister of health was on a programme on television, they asked him a question whether there is a law that says only a doctor can be a minister or a Chief Medical Director or a Commissioner of Health. He answered that there is no existing law in that regard, that it is only a historic and traditional event.

We agreed with him because there was a time, Humphrey Nwosu, a Laboratory scientist was a Minister and one pharmacist also. So, if there were an existing law, they would not allow that to happen. About issue of positions of Chief Medical Directors and Managing Directors of hospitals , the law says somebody who is medically qualified and not necessarily a medical doctor.

So if you say somebody who is medically qualified, by our status you call a doctor a doctor, a lab scientist is a lab scientist, you called a nurse a nurse, pharmacist is pharmacist but in general terms, you called all of them medical personnel. So, if you say anybody that is medically qualified, all of them are qualified. These are the issues. Though, there is another issue which bothers on consultancy. We have consultants in the medical profession. When you go back to school, added with the years of service you have in addition to your qualification, then you will be addressed as a consultant.

Now, JOHESU is saying if we have consultant among the medical doctors, we should have consultants in nursing, laboratory science, and pharmacy. These professionals should be addressed as consultants in their own respective fields. Since it is about qualification and years of service, if you go to other countries like Ghana, South Africa and some other places, they have consultant nurses. Even some of the non governmental organisations we have in Nigeria, like WHO, UNICEF and others when they employ, they do give consultancy to nurses. It is in your own profession that you are coming to become a consultant and not in other people's profession. But government is still saying no to all these things. So, we want Nigerians to know that these are the grievances that JOHESU is having.

Who is to blame for these disparities in the administrative setting?

It is the government of course, because all of us work for the government and the government is representing the populace. So, by all means, government has to be fair and just to all. Government can do these through appointments, the senior minister can be a doctor while the junior minister may be a pharmacist, the permanent secretary may be a laboratory scientist and if government cannot be fair to all, let it bring neutral persons to head the ministries.

There is a friction in the health sector now, especially, between the NMA and JOHESU. Are you not scared that you may play into the hand of government by bringing in someone unprofessional to head the sector?

We don't mind, as long as he or she is going to be fair and just to every professional, we would not mind. If you go to other countries, most of the ministers of health are not even health workers. When you are appointed and take the oath of office, you are governing by the rules and regulation, as long as you are not going to be lopsided or biased but treat every profession equally. We are not saying if you give a doctor one hundred thousand naira, you must give a nurse, lab scientist or pharmacist the same. That is not what we are saying. What we are saying is that there must be equity and fairness. If you give a doctor one hundred thousand naira, give a pharmacist or a lab scientist or seventy or eighty thousand naira. That is our demand; I am not a medical doctor and can never collect a doctor's salary. The law will not even allow me.

Now that the NMA is against your demands, what is your union's reaction to their threat against your request?

The painful thing is when you fight for your own right and you ask me not to do same for myself, it is very painful and disheartening. I don't know what the country is turning into. We are not happy, because NMA has no constitutional right to negotiate salary on behalf of other bodies. They only have constitutional right to negotiate on behalf of their members

If I were NMA, I would not have put any threat against JOHESU's agitation because I know there is no way, even if the present minister were not a doctor, that government could give equal pay to JOHESU and doctors. When you go to other countries like United States, they don't care what your qualification is before you are engaged and paid. The number of hours you put into service will determine your pay. If you work for eight hours as doctor and a common ward servant works for 10 or 24 hours, he will earn more than you doctor, it is all about your input at work unlike here in Nigeria. We are not agitating that we must have equal pay with doctors that is not what we are saying. A young doctor that just finish you in medical school will join the profession at Level 12, while a nurse that finish in university and joined the profession will start on level 8, by the time this nurse moves to level 9, the doctor would have moved to Level 13, by the nurse moves to Level 10, the doctor is already on Level 14, by the time the nurse moves to Level 11, the doctor will be on level 15, when he gets to Level 12 which is the entry point of a doctor, this doctor is already in Level 16. Now, tell me how their salary will be the same. Obviously,we are not happy.

The National Industrial Court ruled that JOHESU should resume and go back to negotiation table with government, as a leader, what do you think should be an acceptable offer for the union?

This is the court that intervenes in trade dispute in the country. I would not like to make much comment, concerning the recent ruling. But what baffled me was the NMA that went to court to secure an order. Knowing fully well that they are not even a trade union body and they have been going on strike and this national industrial court is aware. You see, we have labour laws and acts drawn from the constitution. That constitution recognises the existence of Nigeria Labour Congress. It categorically states that for you to exist as a trade union, you must be an affiliate of a labour congress, but NMA is not an affiliate of NLC. They are on their own and still negotiate salary, they bargain and go on strike. The national industrial court has been silent on this. I don't know why they are now directing a legalised, well recognised and legitimate labour organisation to suspend its strike and resume negotiations within 24 hours. It is a directive and not an appeal. The constitution says you can engage in dispute, you can engage in negotiation and bargain as long as your right is infringed upon.

Do you foresee your union obeying the court decision?

I have not kept in touch with them but certainly I don't think they will succumb. We have many cases against the federal government in the said court that we have won but the federal government is yet to implement those judgements.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:May 30, 2018
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