According to reports, the Federal Government has advised aggrieved labour unions to stop taking cases to President Muhammadu Buhari because he will not negotiate with them.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who stated this before negotiating with the leadership of striking Joint Health Sector Unions and Assembly of Health Care Professionals (JOHESU) also told unions not to route their matters through the offices of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and Acting Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mrs. Habiba Lawal.
“President Jonathan negotiated with some people; they know why he chose to do so, but this president won’t negotiate with any worker,” he stated.
Ngige explained that workers, as employees of government, should always bring their grievances to his ministry; which represents their employer. He said the president appointed the ministers to represent him, therefore, he (president) cannot discuss with any union.
He expressed the concern of the federal government over the spate of industrial action by essential service providers, especially in the health sector, like doctors, nurses, laboratory technologists and so on, which, according to him, was not in line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the country’s labour laws.
He said: “Nobody notified me of any strike action in accordance with the laws of the land; instead, letters were written to the Vice President and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. It was those letters that were referred to me and it took days to get to me.
“I deserve to get notification, not as Senator Chris Ngige, but as the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Chief Conciliator of the Federation. We should threat issues of labour with all the seriousness they deserve. We like to listen to workers because they are the weaker ones in the labour chain.”
Ngige noted that any other sector can go on strike and no life would be lost.
“For instance, if the teacher goes on strike and the school is closed down, the lost period could be spread into their holiday. But once health workers refuse to do what they are supposed to do, it becomes ominous.”
He assured of government’s readiness to address the demands of JOHESU such as adjustment of CONHESS salary, victimisation of their members in the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Owerri, Imo State, for fighting corruption, scale to scale promotion, payment of skipping relativity and promotion arrears and review of retirement age from 60 to 65 as done for the tertiary education sector, among others.
In his remarks, President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, thanked the minister for his proactive approach in trying to arrest the ongoing JOHESU strike, but called for the strengthening of collective bargaining process to forestall frequent strike.
Also speaking, JOHESU National Chairman, Biobelemoye Josiah, maintained that the strike followed due process, while bemoaning government’s negligent attitude to their 30 days notice and seven-day ultimatum, respectively.
However, he said: “We have come here with a request sheet from our members which we will unveil in the course of the meeting.”
The health workers, comprising the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), the Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and two other unions, began an indefinite nationwide strike on September 21.