Despite the call by the Federal Government to members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to shelve their planned five-day warning strike, the strike has begun.
Activities at the federal and state – owned tertiary institutions and federal medical centers have been grounded as the resident doctors who are the majority doctors in the institutions, are on strike.
It was gathered that Patients would start seeking alternatives at the General hospitals, health centers and private hospitals for their medical attention while those already on admission at the tertiary institutions would be attended to by the Consultants and Nurses.
Describing the warning strike as illegal, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige issued a warning on Tuesday shortly after receiving a letter from the NARD executive around 5pm, notifying him of the impending industrial action, billed to commence today.
According to a statement by the ministry’s Director, Press and Public Relations, Olajide Oshundun, the Minister was said to have contacted the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who informed him that a meeting had been scheduled by his office with the resident doctors for Wednesday, May 17.
The labour minister advised the doctors to avail themselves of the opportunity for social dialogue with their employer, rather than embark on a warning strike, arguing that it was unknown to the law.
“I will advise them to attend the meeting with the Minister of Health on Wednesday,” he said.
“It is their decision. They have the right to strike. You cannot deny them that right. But their employer has another right under Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, to withhold their pay for those five days,” he said.
“So, if the NARD has strike funds to pay their members for those five days, no problem. The Health Minister will instruct the teaching hospitals to employ ad hoc people for those five days and they will use the money of the people who went on strike to pay the ad hoc doctors.”
He cited the International Labour Organization (ILO) principles at decent work, especially for those rendering essential services, adding that lives should be protected.
“One of my sons is a resident doctor, I will advise him to go to work and sign the attendance register. The people seen at work are the ones to receive their pay. If you don’t work, there will be no pay,” he said.
Commenting on the five demands of the doctors, Ngige argued the Federal Government lacked the powers to compel the states to domesticate the Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF), since health is in the residual list, where both the federal and state governments have the powers to legislate.
The minister added that the Federal Government could not bully the states into domesticating the MRTF if they did not want to.
Regarding the issue of immediate payment of the MRTF to the union’s members, he said it was appropriated in the 2023 budget, but had not been released, as the 2022 budget was still running, adding that those in 2022 had all been paid.
Additionally, Ngige denied the claim by NARD that the Federal Government did not pay minimum wage consequential adjustment arrears to their members, saying that all workers in the education and health sectors, as well as the defence agencies, benefited from the adjustment.
He noted that the doctors could not declare a nationwide strike because some states were owing their members, pointing out that the Federal Government could not also dabble into the issue, being a state matter.
Similarly, the labour minister stated that the Federal Government as the executive arm of government could not intervene in the bill at the National Assembly to bond doctors for five years, as it is a private member’s bill.
According to him, any intervention by the executive on the matter impinges on the autonomy and independence of the legislative arm of government.
Ngige said although the bill had passed through first and second readings, he was sure it would be shot down at the public hearing, since the law prohibits forced labour.
He advised the doctors not to talk about 200 percent pay rise, as it was not feasible.
Besides all the government has done for doctors and other workers in the health sector, according to Ngige, such as an upward review of hazard allowances, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) was already negotiating with the Federal Ministry of Health, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission and the Presidential Committee on Salaries on a pay rise for doctors.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has called on the Federal Government to address its demands before the May 29 handover to a new administration, saying industrial harmony could not be guaranteed thereafter.
“We are talking about brain drain. We are talking about inadequate manpower in our hospitals. Nigerians are witnessing increased waiting period, when they get to hospitals to see their doctors. Some of them spend days before they get attended to because the hospitals that used to have, for instance, 100 doctors, now have 10. How will these 10 doctors do the work of 100?” NARD President, Dr. Emeka Orji said.
The national strike which commenced today, Wednesday is expected to end on Monday, May 22.Follow us on social media