Published On: Thu, Feb 27th, 2014

Curbing incessant strikes in the health sector

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 Health workers under the umbrella of the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), embarked on a three-day warning strike from Wednesday, 22 January to Friday, 24 January, 2014.  The action was in protest against the non-implementation of collective bargain agreement and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and the judgment of National Industrial Court of Nigeria by the Federal Government.

The health workers also condemned the planned appointment of Surgeon-General of the Federation being championed by members of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).

The spokesperson for JOHESU and president, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Dr. Godswill Okara, during a press briefing held in Abuja, accused the federal government of insincerity and breach of agreement.

The three-day strike action of JOHESU paralysed activities in hospitals across the nation and brought untold hardship to patients and their loved ones. Many families are still counting their losses from the strike.

Incidentally, JOHESU’s work stoppage came shortly after the NMA had called off its planned indefinite strike action that was to commence on 6 January to press home its own demands. It would be recalled that members of the NMA had embarked on a five-day warning strike late last year (18 to 22 December) which equally brought suffering to millions of Nigerians.

It is high time all stakeholders in the health sector devised a lasting solution to the numerous contentious issues leading to incessant strikes in the sector.

If there is a sector that should not be engaging in strike actions, it is the health sector.  The difference, most times, between life and death in precarious emergency situations is the prompt intervention of health care professionals. Besides, most patients on admission require constant tending from health workers sometimes to stay alive and also to prevent further complications of their health conditions.

For such cadre of health professionals to abandon work is unacceptable.

It must be emphasised, however, that the government has a big role to play in this regard. Over the years, the Nigerian government has, by its actions and inactions, made strike the only effective recourse for workers in virtually all the sectors of the nation.  It is painful and worrisome that the government hardly acts in time to nip problems that could lead to strikes in the bud; it only tends to show interest in negotiating with aggrieved unions after they have downed tools.

Government must be more proactive in managing crisis especially when it affects the health sector. It must develop a new culture of promptly looking at the legitimate demands of health workers and acting on such demands quickly and fairly.

It is also our view that a major cause of the lingering unrest in the health sector, aside poor funding, is inter-professional wrangling. Thus, any effort aimed at taking the health sector out of its present doldrums must also focus on how to promote team spirit among the various practitioners.  The sector can only perform at its best in offering quality care to Nigerians when rivalry and unbridled competition is banished, and all the stakeholders work in harmony.

Most importantly, both the government and the health workers should know that when they allow disagreements to degenerate into strike actions, the Nigerian people are usually the victims.  Many people have died while some have been maimed for life as a result of incessant strike actions by health workers.

It is high time we put a stop to the disturbing trend. Health workers’ strike is an ill-wind that blows nobody any good. It is tantamount to an internecine war: there can never be a winner.

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Curbing incessant strikes in the health sector