By Joan Nwagwu
Labour and Employment minister Chris Ngige has blasted striking hospital workers for using their freedom of association and speech to intimidate others.
At a meeting with the workers, the minister who sat in with other ministers told the union: “No, you cannot do so. You cannot brutalize me in the media for nothing.
“Even these ministers here, you cannot brutalize them, because they are serving the nation.’’
Ngige said that freedom of association and speech should be carefully exercised to avoid hurting the rights of others.
He acknowledged that freedom of association and freedom of speech were constitutionally guaranteed, but stated that trade unionism had a boundary.
“They have a limit. You cannot use yours to hurt mine, slander or libel anybody because there can consequences.”
He also said that Federal Government should not be blamed for on-going strike by the National Association of Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU).
The minister opened up at the opening of a conciliation meeting with JOHESU leaders, Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole and relevant government agencies on Tuesday in Abuja.
The minister deplored media reports credited to National Chairman of JOHESU, Mr Biobeleye Josiah, that the Federal Government should be blamed for the union’s strike.
He also decried allegation by the union that he travelled on the day government officials were expected to meet with leaders of the striking workers.
According to Ngige, as a minister, I am fully aware of the sanctity of my responsibilities as a servant and it is wrong for a servant to be maligned or brutalized for no just cause.
“We are ministers; we are servants and we are serving you. How can you vilify your servant, or start beating him or killing him when there is no offence?
“It is not in the best interest of fair labour practices. It is unconscionable.
“The impression you gave in the media is grossly erroneous.
“We invited you to a meeting on Thursday, September 21, 2017, your union failed to turn up and later requested for Friday, September 22, 2017.
“I already had an official engagement at Owerri and the Health Minister was also involved in a different function,” he said.
He also called for permanent structures for peace in trade unionism through selfless assessment of the extant economic situation in the country.
The minister said that this was only possible through social dialogue and constant negotiation so as to forestall perennial strikes.
“We all know the economy is not in good shape.
“If there were promises made when oil was selling at 150 dollars per barrel and those promises were not kept, it will be difficult to meet it now.
“It will not be very reasonable to expect a government that came in while oil is selling at 40 or 50 dollars to pay backlogs.
“But, that is what we are suffering here. So, I made it clear to the resident doctors, university teachers and I am making it clear here. We all have to make sacrifices to make Nigeria great,’’ he said.
The health workers embarked on an indefinite nationwide strike on Wednesday over non-implementation of agreement reached with the Federal Government.
The union’s demand includes adjustment of CONHESS salary as done for CONMESS since 2014, abolition of scale-to-scale promotion, payment of outstanding arrears of promotion and “skipping and relativity”.
Others are autonomy of Teaching and Specialist Hospitals, non-implementation of court judgments, review of retirement age from 60 years to 65 years as done for tertiary education sub-sector. (NAN)