By Ndidi Chukwu
Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Health, Linus Awute yesterday said the Federal Ministry of Health finds it very disturbing, the way and manner some of the Health Workers Unions have been embarking on strike actions which in many instances have not only resulted in gross impunity but has also led to the breakdown of law and order in some federal medical institutions. Making reference to striking members of the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) in Federal Medical Center Owerri, Imo State, Awute said ”The unsatisfactory conduct exhibited by the striking NUAHP members has become very embarrassing, in the face of millions of other qualified Nigerian citizens looking for gainful employment out there”
He said at the centre of this trend of impunity are the faction or branch of the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) in the Federal Medical Centre Owerri.
The Federal Medical Centre Owerri, health workers crisis degenerated into the disruption of services, hooliganism and a breakdown of law and order. “Right now the union members, (NUAHP), have put the Federal Medical Centre Owerri, under siege, sacking the MD, Management of the Hospital and patients in criticalconditions under the care of the hospital” Awute told journalists.
“The problem in FMC Owerri started when a proposal by the Medical Director, Dr. Angela Uwakwem, to initiate a Private Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement in the institution met with resistance from the workers. The Union also accused her of high handedness among other allegations and are calling for her sack” “The Union wrote a petition to the Governing Board of the FMC and the Board referred the matter of the PPP proposal to the Finance and General Purpose Committee (F&GPC) of the Board. However, before the F&GPC could even meet the union members started protesting, chanting war songs and became generally lawless. Some of their acts of brazenness unbecoming of public officers included giving out official documents to unauthorized persons, booing, throwing pure water sachets and stones at board members, abusing and other threatening union members who wanted to go for reconciliatory meetings”
“They hired menacing thugs to join their daily protests and holding board members hostage from 3:30pm to 7:30pm on 15th May, 2015. How can they be the complainant, the judge and the executioner? What is the role of the Ministry and its management?” The Permanent Secretary asked.
Predicated on the belief that dialogue is the best way to resolve disputes, the Management of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) since the commencement of the present strike action held meetings with the striking union as well as their National Executives. The Ministry also invited the Federal Medical Centre Owerri branch. These meetings were called to effectively dialogue; seek practical avenues to resolve union grievances and put an end to the incessant strike actions that has caused unquantifiable hardship and suffering to thousands of Nigerians needing medical care.
The striking health workers are objecting to the policy of Public Private Partnership (PPP) as being implemented by the Management of FMC Owerri. Non Payment of allowances for skipping a salary grade level. But Awute said” It must be noted that payment of the allowance is dependent on funds released to the hospitals by the Ministry of Finance. Those institutions that have been given the releases are already implementing the payment.”
On the non-promotion of other health professionals from salary CONHESS 14- 15 as directors, he said “It is important to state that the Minister of Health has given a clear directive on this issue by stating that since promotion in the public service is not automatic but subject to availability of vacancies and merit of the individual candidates, all the concerned tertiary institutions in the health sector should commence the process of staff audit to declare vacancies by due process on an annual bases. There is therefore evidence of compliance following this directive in many of the tertiary hospitals”
The meeting with the leadership of the National Union also witnessed notable outcomes as a mixed committee was set up involving the union members and the Ministry officials with a definite Terms of Reference (TOR) and a working template. He said ” Management of the Federal Ministry of Health believes that the Owerri branch of NUAHP is under the national Union leadership and should therefore assist the process articulated with the National Union Executives to solve the problems as a means of achieving harmony and results in service delivery in the health sector.
He called on the unions to give peace a chance. Nevertheless, Management cannot sit and fold its arms in the face of violence, willful damage of government property and impunity being perpetrated by some misguided members of the Unions. We are determined to demonstrate positive change by visiting strong sanctions on cases of impunity and unsatisfactory conduct recorded in the course of this strike, using the Public Service Rules which govern the engagement of the services of staff in the public service domain.
Awute said “the Ministry will however continue to open all available channels for dialogue, seek for peaceful resolutions of knotty issues, while we continue to appeal to the Unions particularly the FMC Owerri Branch of the Nigerian Union of Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP). The National Leadership has also been reached once again with a formal letter appealing to them to urgently go back to work or vacate the siege of the Hospital in their own interest and in the interest of peace and harmony in the hospital”.