Abia to implement CONHESS from 2021, as health workers continue indefinite strike

[From BONIFACE OKORO, Umuahia]

After more than 10 years of approval, Abia Government has promised to commence full implementation of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) at the local government level.

Gov Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State

The promise is coming amidst the ongoing indefinite strike action by the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), the umbrella union of all Healthcare workers, except medical doctors, to press home their demand for full implementation of CONHESS and CONMESS in the state.

The JOHESU-declared indefinite strike commenced on November 3, 2020, at the expiration of a 15-day ultimatum issued by the Union on October 14, 2020.

However, one month into the healthcare workers’ industrial action, government has accepted to pay CONHESS, as well as other welfare enhancing packages, to health workers in the 17 local governments of the state, with effect from January 2021.

Chief of Staff to the Governor, Dr. ACB Agbazuere, who announced the packages in a terse statement in Umuahia, explained that they were approved by the Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu.

The Statement read: “Abia State Governor, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu,  Ph.D. consistent with his passion for quality health services and workers’ motivation has granted the following for health workers in the State: “Immediate notional approval and consequential payment of Consolidated Health Salary Scheme (CONHESS) for local government workers who are entitled to it with effect from January 2021.

“Approval of a total sum of Four Million Naira (N4,000,000) only as running cost for the Executive Secretary, the Seventeen (17) Health Authority Secretaries and all others so entitled in the local government system.

“The Governor has also directed the Committee on the resolution of arrears of salaries owed by some government parastatals to expedite action and round off within the Two (2) weeks window given to them.

“It is also the position of government that workers will be paid by hand to checkmate debilitating and illicit sharp practices.

“It is expected that health workers and others will reciprocate this goodwill of the Governor by putting in their best in the service of our State.”

The announcement came after Agbazuere had met with the Executive Secretaries of Health Authorities and Heads of the Primary Healthcare Agencies, amongst others, of the 17 local governments.

The December 2, 2020 announcement by Agbazuere has not motivated JOHESU to either suspend or call off their industrial action.

Instead, the Union is still pushing ahead with negotiations, while awaiting the documentation of the latest government’s approval and making same available to it.

The Oracle Today gathered that a negotiation meeting between government and JOHESU on December 3, 2020 was inconclusive.

The negotiations will continue next week.

In the notice of the lingering indefinite strike action dated November 3, 2020,  JOHESU stated: “For clarity of purpose, the reasons for the indefinite strike action are as follows:

“Non-payment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure for Health care workers in some establishments, Primary Health care Agencies in the 17 local government areas and parastatals in the state.

“Accumulated unpaid salary arrears to: Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH), Aba – 18 months; Hospital Management Board – 15 months; Primary Health Care in the local government areas – 3 months; College of Health Technology, Aba – 8 months;  “Exclusion of health workers in the payment of new minimum wage and adjusted CONHESS.

“Slashing of members’ salaries without any reason and non-payment of pension and gratuity to our retired members in ABSUTH and other health institutions in the state.”

A sensitization meeting on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, had set the tone for the industrial dispute and was followed by the issuance of the 15-day to government on October 14.

Abia State Chairman of JOHESU, Comrade Okoro Ogbonnaya, said at the sensitization meeting that the strike has become imminent because their members’ welfare was being treated with levity in the state.

Ogbonnaya lamented that 10 years after the state had approved CONHESS and CONMESS, government was yet to implement it fully.

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