Front-line health workers in two of the biggest emergency care facilities at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, have decried what they described as ‘protracted delay’ in the payment of their COVID-19 and PTF allowances since April.
Punch reports that the Deputy Medical Director of Port Health, Dr. Abdullahi Lawal; the General Manager of the Aviation Medical Clinic, Dr. Bola Olatunji; as well as the Deputy Director of Media at the federal ministry of health, Jimi Oyetomi, spoke on the issue.
Emergency Public Health workers at the Port Health Services and Aviation Medicals at the MMIA said the Federal Government owed them six-month outstanding COVID-19 allowances.
The Port Health Unit is a department under the Federal Ministry of Health that attends to COVID-19, infectious diseases and other public emergencies at the MMIA.
Health workers who spoke to PUNCH HealthWise did on condition of anonymity for fear of sanction.
When our correspondent visited the emergency public health department at the MMIA, workers alleged that only six of the 73 health workers at the Port Health had so far been paid the April and May COVID-19 allowances. The reason for the alleged selective payment was not explained.
Said a health worker, “When it comes to hazard allowances, not even the PTF palliatives was received by any of us at Port Health.”
Virtually everybody our correspondent spoke with had no idea where the problem was, but one of the workers said an unconfirmed report from the health ministry claimed that there was an error in-between the departments of administration and accounting. “We don’t know how true this is,” the source added.
When reached via phone, the Deputy Medical Director of Port Health, Dr. Abdullahi Lawal, told PUNCH HealthWise that he could not comment on the issue, noting that he was not directly involved in the payment of health workers.
“It is the finance people in the ministry of health that you can talk to. They are in a better position to give more information on the delay. It is done centrally in Abuja,” Lawal said.
The situation in Port Health is not different from that in Aviation Medical Clinic, also domiciled at the MMIA.
Health workers attached to the AMC, which is directly under the supervision of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, have also not been paid COVID-19 hazard allowances for over six months.
A staff of the health facility who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that, despite two circulars in June and September authorizing the payment, no medical personnel has been paid since April.
He said, “The only consolidation we have is the salary, which also gets delayed till the first or second week of a new month. “At other times, it could be divided into two, one paid immediately and the balance later the following month.
“To make matter worse, only health workers from Level 1 to 7 are paid first, before the top cadre receives theirs a week or so later.”
Unlike Port Health workers who oversee the management of COVID-19, infectious diseases and other public health emergencies, Aviation Medical Clinic takes care of staff or travellers (checking in or out) who fall sick.
Sources said whenever a deportee or incoming passengers test positive for COVID-19, it is the job of Port Health to investigate, make arrangements with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for their evacuation.
“Our job at Aviation Medical is to assist Port Health to strike a balance,” a health worker told our correspondent.
When PUNCH HealthWise visited the headquarters of Aviation Medical Clinic at MMIA, the General Manager of the facility, Dr. Bola Olatunji, was in a meeting.
She, however, delegated the national head of nurses, Dauda Odeniyi, to attend to our correspondent.
Olatunji’s representative explained, “FAAN is a parastatal directly under the federal ministry of aviation, not health. We are different from Port Health workers who are paid directly by the ministry of health.
“Therefore, our payment process has to go through a directorate to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 before the allowances can be sanctioned.
“It is not restricted to Lagos; it also affects other aviation health workers across the country,” our correspondent learnt.
The nurse also justified the delay in payment of salary, adding that it ongoing in major parastatals across the country.
Odeniyi, on behalf of his boss, attributed the delay in salary to the disruption brought about by COVID-19.
“Due to the closure of airports as a result of COVID-19 lockdown, the management struggled to meet up with targets. As we speak, not all international flights are operating. Even the local flights just started operating on September 12.
“There are allowances senior employees like us are equally expecting that have not been settled due to the COVID-19 disruption,” he said.
He, however, did not explain why the first circular received in June authorizing payment was not processed.
Later, Olatunji told our correspondent on phone that delay in allowance payment was an internal problem.
“I don’t really see it as an issue because it is all over the place. It is an internal problem, not for the public. Some doctors have even gone on strike to protest the same thing.
“On our part, we have submitted our lists and names and I think it is being processed,” Olatunji said.
Efforts made to reach the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, proved abortive; while the Deputy Director of Media at the ministry, Jimi Oyetomi, declined to comment.
“I am not in a better position to speak on this issue because I cannot specifically tell whether the delay is from account or administration department. “Aggrieved unions or workers ought to write officially to the office of the minister.
“But since a few of them have received the COVID-19 allowance, I am sure the rest will also be paid,” he said.