The lack equity and fairness in the distribution of COVID-19 allowance to health workers is causing anxiety among practitioners in the health sector. In this interview with HASSAN ZAGGI, the Chairman, Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), JOSIAH BIOBELEMOYE, insisted that the Federal Ministry of Health is trying to cause chaos in the sector by refusing to respect the MoU signed between the government and the health professionals on how to pay the COVID-19 allowance. Excerpt:
Are you concern that the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS) is not happy about the happenings in the health sector and are thinking of how to intervene?
I am seriously concerned. For a long time, we have been drumming this that the health system is not what it ought to be in terms of infrastructure, administration, funding, working tools, equipment, general welfare and reagent. And the hospital system is not being managed the way it should be. That does not mean that we are favouring privatization.
Britain, up to 70 to 80 per cent run on public health, France, the public health drives the system, the Scandinavian countries, the public health drives the system and they are working well. These countries I have called and many others have some of the best health indices in the world.
But here, because people have cultivated the zeal to make money at the expense of poor Nigerians, so they have been preaching privatization or Public Private Partnership (PPP) as an alternative. But the countries that have used these modalities have failed.
When we were shouting about the decay in the health system, they decided to shut our agitations and deliberately denied us our rights and privileges so that we will be provoked to embark on strike. When we embark on strike, they will now use it to tell people that it is because we are running a public health system.
So, they have been trying to cover things up. But thanks to COVID-19 pandemic, it has unearthed everything that we have been saying for many years. Today, everybody in Nigeria has seen that the health system is in bad shape.
Do you think the government has learnt its lessons from this COVID-19 pandemic?
I pray they learn. May be at the top echelon, the government is learning. But in the ministry of health where they manage the health system, there are no lessons learnt. Do you know why? The unions have gone into agreement, even though that was not our best option, but the ministry of health is turning it upside down.
Since hazard does not discriminate, therefore, the position of JOHESU is that hazard allowance should be flat rate. Since it used to be N5000, they should just improve it and make it flat rate.
Other allowances can vary but hazard allowance should be flat. This is because no causative agent will say this is a none professional, I will harm him less. Therefore, we wanted that the hazard allowance to be flat rate.
But, you know majority always have their way. Majority agreed that we should use percentage, I don’t have any alternative than to key to it.
But now even the per centage we agreed that it should cut across every worker in the health system, the health ministry has changed it.
When we say health worker, we mean all those that have been employed by the health system via the health ministry, hospitals and other parastatals.
We expected that the per centage should be uniform. If you cannot give high percentage to the lower grade levels, then make the percent uniform. That was the agreement we signed.
For people who are not in the health system, who are posted on secondment, for example, there are people who are posted from the main service pool to the ministry of health, those ones can be posted out again.
It has been concluded that 10 per cent should go to such category of people because they were not earning hazard allowance before, but because of COVID-19, this provision has been made to cover them.
But for the health ministry to now deny the content of an agreement, paragraph 1(a) and use paragraph 1(d) which is meant for entirely a different intent and purpose is unfortunate.
For the ministry to now countermand the validity of Section 1(a) is a deliberate way of causing crisis in the health sector. The health ministry, indeed, has not learnt any lesson as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are you optimistic that the health ministry will follow the content of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to the later?
We are hoping that the ministry will live to its responsibility and say that as we agreed in Paragraph 1(a) of the MoU, whoever was earning N5000 should replace it with 50 per cent, no ambiguity. If you also go to Paragraph 1(d), look for the people that are affected and treat them.
We discussed all these things with the Minister of Labour, we raised these issues on June 8 when we met with them and they are trying to tell us the modality for the implementation of the agreement. They agreed that all other categories including drivers, cleaners, laundry and so on are part of the 50 per cent. It was clear.
Before that day, in my interaction with the Minister of Labour, I told him to give appropriate directive because the Ministry of Health is known for deliberate misrepresentation and misinterpretation of agreements. I told him that he should not be surprise that the ministry of health will leave item one which is top item in the sequence to go and take (d) in order to create confusion. He said no, it is very clear. He said people that earn N5000 are going to earn 50 per cent.
The 10 per cent that was meant for others is now what they are putting forward for health workers. That was for none health workers.
Where is the way out?
The way out is for the Ministry of Health that has misinterpreted that agreement to correct itself by reordering and ensure that the agreed per centage is implemented.
To be candid, the present Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health, has been of immense help for the stability of the health system. He has been doing well.
He has scheduled a meeting with JOHESU for trash out all the issues, I just hope that hoax in the ministry of health who are always working to ignite trouble so as to advance their push for privatisation will not have better pressure on the Minister of Health.
NANS gave you an award, how do you feel?
Well, the award came as a surprise to me. If I got information earlier, I may not have agreed to receive the award when our members are in distress. I wound not have celebrated the award at this time, but nevertheless, this is the national body of the students. They have their eyes everywhere. They must have seen our effort.
Before COVID-19 they were not taking our cry serious, but COVID-19 has now exposed everything and now they know that we have been fighting for the people.
I appreciate them. What they have done is a show of love for Nigerians.