By Lilian U. Okoro
The Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI), Lagos State Council, has called on the Federal Government to fulfill its agreement with health workers over payment of allowances.
The Coordinating Chairman of SSAUTHRIAI, Mr Omoniyi Olalekan, made the call during a protest/news conference organised by the association on Wednesday in Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the union carried out a peaceful protest to express their feelings and grievances over unpaid allowances.
The health workers displayed different placards that described their demands from government which included the implementation of new hazard allowance, COVID-19 inducement allowance and CONHESS adjustment.
Olalekan, also the Chairman, Senior Staff Association of University Teaching Hospitals, Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital Yaba, said that an agreement was signed with the government in April 2020 for the payment of COVID-19 inducement allowance.
He explained that government agreed to pay health workers in teaching hospitals 50 per cent of their basic salary, while 40 per cent be paid to those in specialist hospitals as Covid-19 inducement allowance.
According to him, the allowance payment is expected to cover for three months- April, May and June 2020.
“But when it was time for payment, the government came up with its magic by categorising some of our members as non- essential workers and 10 per cent was paid to them.
“Series of meetings with the Federal Government was held where the Minister of Labour agreed that the 10 per cent was paid in error and agreed to pay the remaining balance of 30 per cent.
“The 30 per cent was paid for just one month and up till now – it is more than a year now, and nothing has been done.
“Both the remaining two months of 40 per cent due for health workers in teaching hospitals and 30% for the specialist hospitals has not been paid.
“The government is taking our patience for granted.
“That’s why we are using this medium to appeal to the Federal Government to fulfill the agreement and do the needful, if some of these issues are not addressed, we can not guarantee industrial harmony in the health sector.”
According to him, senior staff in the health sector include nurses, professionals and majority of the health workers.
“We work in health domain and deals with lives, as a result, we may not want to go on strike because many lives will be affected.
“But if nothing is done, we may have no option than to give ultimatum and once the senior staff decides to go on strike, the whole hospital is empty and nothing will bring us back until that money is paid,” Olalekan said.
Also speaking, the former Chairman of Health Sector Trustee of SSAUTHRIAI, Mr Adegoke Kehinde, called for the implementation of the new hazard allowance for health workers.
Kehinde, said that payment of the harzard allowance was supposed to have started on January 2021, but has not been implemented till date.
According to him, when arrears accumulate for too long, it becomes difficult for government pay.
He added that a seven-man committee was set up in October 2021 to fine-tune the CONHESS adjustment, saying that till now, nothing has been heard.
“The truth is that, the moment we issue an ultimatum and day it expires, action will start and we know we are in essential services that deals with lives and won’t want to lose any of our patients.
“But the fact that we’re in essential services does not mean we can not express our grievances – it is our right.
“The agreement that the government signed was not done in duress; it was under peaceful atmosphere and the three parties – the government, the union and those that meditate the process reach the agreement.
“We are pleading; let the government do the needful before we issue an ultimatum. But if government fails to act, then, another sector – the health sector nationwide is going to shutdown.
“And what is currently happening in the education sector will be a child play, the health sector’s will not be a joke,” he said.
The immediate past chairman, Senior Staff Association, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Mr Bitrus Nelson, urged the Federal Government to address the issue in order not to allowed crisis in the economy to compound.
Nelson, also a Veteran of SSAUTHRIAI, sympathised with the education sector that had been down for over six months, but insisted that the government listen to the health workers.
He said, “We have enough in our hands already, so the government should not allow this to compound again.
“Imgine the current situation of the economy – the education sector is down, the security situation is bad and the health comes to join, I think our hands will be too full.
“If citizens should start having challenges accessing healthcare, people will start dying and before you know it, the total economy is going to collapse and is the citizens that will suffer it.”
Nelson, however, urged members of the association to continue to exercise some level of restraints as they wait for the government to do the needful. (NAN)