Strike: FG, doctors trade tackles
The Federal Government has vowed not to withdraw the suit it instituted against the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) unless striking doctors call off their 33-day-old industrial action which has paralysed activities in government-owned hospitals nationwide.
It also reiterated that its stance on ‘no work, no pay’ policy remains in line with global practice as captured in Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act under the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, stated this at the weekend after briefing President Muhammadu Buhari who reviewed the nation’s health system.
Briefing State House Correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Ngige explained that the 12-points demand of the doctors have been met.
On his meeting with President Buhari, Ngige said: “I discussed the state of the healthcare system industrial disputes with Mr. President. As you well know, the resident doctors are still on strike, their strike has now entered the 33rd day today. Meanwhile, government is doing everything possible to make sure they get back to work.
“Out of their 12-point issues raised in their demands, we have done all, we have come to agreements on all, including those that even affect the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria and medical doctors, who are in academics and teaching universities.
“So, we have handled all. The only point of disagreement now is that they said the agreements and the memorandum of action…government should inserts, include that Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act will not apply to them.
“That section says that when a worker withdraws his services from his employer, the employer is at liberty to withhold payment of emoluments to him and the ILO principles at work and strike said you can use that money to pay other people you have engaged in that particular period of strike.
“So, you have a right to strike but your employer has also the right to withhold your emolument. More importantly, in other climes, before unions go on strike, by that principle, they discuss with their workers and bring out what they call strike funds and it’s from that strike funds that the union will use to pay the workers that have gone on strike. They will also agree on the number of days the strike will last….”
He added: “I briefed Mr. President and we’ve agreed that they should come back to work and if they come back to work, we can take other things from there; we’ll drop the case in court and then they will come back and get things done.
“The Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, in conjunction with the Office of the Head of Service, had a meeting and they are jointly going to do a circular that will be issued for Salaries, Incomes and Wages to reiterate that the House Officers and Youth Corps doctors are still on CONMES scale one and two respectively. So, I think we are doing the implementation.
“Also, from the monitoring meeting we did this morning, Ministry of Health has got the list of doctors who supposedly are to benefit from the Medical Residency Training Fund. Total submission of about 8,000 names were gotten and the Ministry of Health is scrutinising them, we have done the first round of scrutinisation and they will now compare what they have with the Postgraduate Medical College and the Chief Medical Directors who submitted the names.
“The Association of Resident Doctors, in each of the tertiary centres, worked with the CMDs to produce those names, but now that the names are being verified, we discovered that about 2,000 names shouldn’t be there because they don’t have what is called Postgraduate Reference Numbers of National Postgraduate Medical College and (or) that of the West African Postgraduate Medical College.”
However, NARD’s President, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuya, insisted that they were not moved by the threat of the minister. He noted the government instituted the court action and the doctors had representation through their lawyers.
“It’s unfortunate that the Minister, Dr. Ngige, has been feeding the president with lies because he’s fortunate to find himself in that position. But he should know that he won’t stay there forever.
“Whatever the case may be, we are ready to face him in court whenever the need arises. But we won’t call off the nationwide strike not minding how long it will take. It’s unfortunate that nothing has been done as regards our demands. Outstanding salaries of our members are not paid, residency allowances not paid, among several others.
“In fact, nothing has been done as regards our demands contrary to what the minister has been feeding the president and the media with.
“It’s also unfortunate that the minister who is a medical doctor could be speaking this way, but we are not surprised because he enjoyed several privileges and scholarships to get to the position he occupied. Ngige was never a resident doctor so he doesn’t know what we are facing. But in a nutshell, we won’t succumb to his threat and we won’t call off the nationwide strike until our demands are met.”