Statement by the FMH Permanent Secretary on the On-Going Strike by FMC Owerri Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP)
1. The Management of 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.
2. The unsatisfactory conduct exhibited by the striking health professional union under the aegis of the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) has become very embarrassing, in the face of millions of other qualified Nigerian citizens looking for gainful employment out there.
3. 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.
4. At the Federal Medical Centre Owerri, the situation has 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 critical conditions under the care of the hospital.
5. 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.
6. 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?
7. Predicated on the belief that dialogue is the best way to resolve disputes, the Management of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) has, 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.
8. The crux of the grievances of the unions include: i. Objection to the policy of Public Private Partnership (PPP) as being implemented by the Management of FMC Owerri. ii. Payment of allowances for skipping a salary grade level. – 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. iii. The non-promotion of other health professionals from salary CONHESS 14- 15 as directors – 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. iv. That their retirement age should be increased from 60 to 65years: This matter falls under the mandate of the National Council on Establishment and should not warrant a strike in FMC Owerri.
9. At the meeting their grievances were extensively deliberated and the Hon. Minister directed the leadership of the union to go back and call on their members to go back to work in order to give way for management of the Ministry to embark on a formal evaluation/investigation of the various allegations made by the union which the present situation of siege and hostility of the union members poses a huge challenge. 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. 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.
10. It is important to observe that in spite of the agreements reached on the desirable approach to their grievances and the passionate appeal by the Minister of State for Health, Eng. Fidelis Nwankwo, who chaired the meetings on 25th and 26th May, 2015 respectively, these union members in FMC Owerri have remained intransigent and have refused to go back to work.
11. The action of the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals in FMC Owerri is inauspicious, in bad faith and unpatriotic as the timing is even suspicious. They chose the period of the Government handing over process.
12. The Ministry is committed to finding a lasting solution to the grievances of the Unions, as has been demonstrated by its leadership in the recent invitations to the various branches of the unions. These unions are hereby called 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.
13. 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.
STATEMENT BY THE PERMANENT SECRETARY, FEDERAL MINISTRY OF HEALTH, MR. LINUS AWUTE, mni, ON THE ON-GOING STRIKE ACTION BY THE NIGERIAN UNION OF ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONALS (NUAHP) IN THE FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTRE