Opinion: Moving beyond strike actions

by Gideon Arinze


If you have been following recent reports in the media, the issue of strikes has gradually become a weighty one that needed to be addressed. Almost every sector is going on strike. It is either the government has not been able to meet all the needs of the aggrieved sectors or they have not met the needs at all. I just hope we do not wake up one day to discover that banks have gone on strike too.

Embarking on strike actions have almost become a daily routine. But what is most saddening is the fact that the industrial actions are usually indefinite. After a particular sector embarks on say a two-day warning strike and nothing is done to address issues raised, the obverse (indefinite action) becomes the case. That has been the norm here.

While the government is still struggling to resolve the circumstances surrounding the strike that was embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union Of Universities( ASUU), Medical Doctors under the umbrella of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have also commenced an indefinite strike. It took effect from Monday the 4th of September 2017.

This was following the rejection of a memorandum of understanding its leadership had signed with the Federal Government when resident doctors met with the Minister of Health, Mr Isaac Adewole and his counterpart in the Labour Ministry, Senator Chris Ngige where they Federal government reportedly made some offers to them.

The National President of NARD, Dr Onyebueze John in a statement said that the body has resolved to reject the promissory offer from the government and proceed on total and indefinite strike action until all items in their demand are met.

Some of the demands of the association were the payment of the salary arrears of members in both Federal and State health institutions and the upgrade of members who have met the requisite criteria for promotion as well as enrollment of residents doctors into the integrated personal payroll information system. Other demands were increased staff welfare and proper management of the deteriorating health facilities across government hospitals.

While the government cannot possibly meet the entire demands of NARD, it is important that they prioritize the health sector by meeting a significant number of the needs and not only holding meetings and signing a memorandum of understanding after which nothing is done.

It is important to note at this point that industrial actions embarked upon by health care workers result in the closure of public health care institutions, preventing citizens’ access to quality health care services. As a result, patients are left at the mercy of private health care workers (most of whom are inept), except for the privileged few who can afford treatments abroad.

On December 14th, Nigerian’s only Neuropathologist at that time, Effiong Essien died of a heart condition on his way to a private hospital as he could not receive medical care at the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital because the Joint Health Sector Union, a coalition of Allied Health Professional was on strike.

Also on December 25th, 2015, the sleepy town of Nkpologu in Uzo Uwani Local Government of Enugu State was thrown into mourning following the death of Veronica Ezugwu who was said to have suffered several gunshots during a robbery attack on a commuter bus travelling for Christmas.

According to a Vanguard report, Veronica was rushed to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital for medical treatment after the attack. But she could not get medical attention because doctors were on strike. She was taken to Annunciation Hospital in Enugu where she reportedly died after operation.

The case of Akang and Veronica are just a few out of the number of people who have died as a result of recurrent strikes in the public health sector. It makes it imperative for the government to always look into the grievances raised by health workers.

The budgetary allocation for the health sector this year is 4.15 percent as against the directive by World Health Organization (WHO) which says that countries must allocate 13 percent of their budgetary allocation to the health sector if they must adequately meet the health care needs of their citizens.

Although the allocation is a marked improvement on the 3.73 percent that was allocated to the health sector in 2016, there is need to further prioritize the health sector giving the critical role it plays in the country.

While industrial actions are seen as one of the bedrocks of modern industrial and democratic societies, usually embarked upon by unions to press home their perceived grievances, health workers must also have the interest of their patients at heart instead of striking primarily for their own benefits.

There must be mechanisms for health sector workers to seek redress of their grievances other than industrial actions.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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