The truth about Enugu health workers strike

By Uchenna Nwatu

When an industrial dispute occurs, there is almost always a consensus about who the public perceives as the villain and the victim. The workers or the unions are seen as the victims, while the employers – especially if it’s the government – are regarded as the villains.

This is understandable. But, sometimes, once the issues that fuelled the industrial crisis are examined dispassionately, the truths become very self-evident.

An example is the recent strike called by the the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANM), Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) and the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) over issues bordering on welfare.

It is instructive that the health workers had proceeded on strike despite an order issued by the Enugu Division of the National Industrial Court restraining them from doing so.

The court had granted the order pending the determination of Motions on Notice for Interlocutory Injunctions filed by the Enugu State government.

Seeking improved earnings and better working conditions are both legitimate aspirations. But they should never be obtained through blackmail, or at the expense of patients who have invariably become pawns in the health workers’ endless invidious material quest.

By virtue of their training and vocation, health sector workers ought always to be circumspect, demonstrate self-restraint and shun motives that are self-serving.

But over the years, health workers have increasingly acted in ways that clearly expose them for what they are – a band of unscrupulous professionals with an insatiable sense of entitlement.

The decision to embark on a strike at a time the country, like the rest of the world, is battling the coronavirus pandemic vitiates whatever valid grouse they might have had, and, indeed, speaks volumes about their work ethic as professionals whose job essentially entails preserving lives.

But even if the health workers would rather pander to the whims of labour unionism than be guided by the ennobling dictates of their vocation, the question then that begs for an answer is this: Why proceed on strike even while a valid court order restraining the action still subsists? And why do so even while negotiations on their demands are still ongoing?

In the more developed societies where the average Nigerian nurse or other allied medical professional dream of migrating to practice, strikes are not called gleefully. That is because there could be consequences, especially when the industrial action results in the death of any patient. Why do health workers here have no qualms about going out on strike? Why are they hardly ever sensitive to the pains their indiscretions will inflict on patients whose wellness they ought to improve?

There can be no worse cruelty than the fact that these same striking health workers will still earn their full pay despite having not offered commensurate work for the corresponding period. Add the fact that they would, quite possibly, have worked at a private facility during the period they had abstained from work and you will understand why public health workers behave like over-indulgent children.

This is totally wrong. No society should be subjected to such abuse of privilege as is frequently done by our health workers. It is, however, gratifying that many well-meaning workers had ignored the self-serving strike and carried on with rendering critical service to the public.

* Nwatu sent this piece from Enugu.

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