Striking members of National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, yesterday tackled the Federal Government over urge to call off the ongoing industrial action, so it (government) could withdraw its case at the National Industrial Court, NIC.
The Federal Government had said weekend said it was ready to withdraw the case it instituted against the doctors, if they go back to their duty posts.
But in a swift response the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, described the call to go back to work as condition for withdrawal of the Federal Government court case against them as shameful, and an embarrassment to President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, the government also insisted that the ‘no work, no pay’ policy would be observed because it is a global practice which is also captured in Section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act recognized by the International Labour Organization, ILO. This is as President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige have taken a review of the nation’s health system.
NMA backs NARD
The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, on its own part, insisted that negotiation was still ongoing, noting that it is in support of NARD, and that the Federal Government could not insist on ‘no-work, no-pay’ policy as it failed to negotiate at the appropriate time.
Briefing State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the minister said that the 12-point demand of the NARD, have been met but also noted that the government will not be arm-twisted by the striking doctors not to follow the global standard.
On why he was at the State House, Senator Ngige, who is the Conciliator-in-Chief of the Federal Government said, “In the main, 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.
‘Issue in contention’
“So, we have handled all; the only point of disagreement now is that they said that the agreements and the memorandum of action, government should inserts, include that Section 43 of the Trade Disputes 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 emoluments. 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.
“That’s why overseas and in other climes, you don’t see strikes getting more than three days or four days or five days, highest and more importantly again, people on essential services, medical services, in particular, where you can lose lives, they don’t go on strike anyhow. They only do picketing and things like that, because people’s lives are involved.”
‘No work no pay rule used against other unions’
He stressed that government had before now applied the ‘no work, no pay’ rule on some unions that embarked on strike.
Ngige said: “So, this is where we are with them and we are saying that even if anybody cares to put it in any agreement, that clause will be void, ab initio, because it’s against the law of the land and we will not, as a government, succumb to undue arm-twisting and then go and sign that. Other workers have lost their pay during strikes; the Joint Health Systems Union JOHESU), they lost their pay in 2018 when they went on four months strike, they lost about two or three months pay when the no-work, no-pay was invoked.
“Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, no-work, no-pay applied to them. Nobody paid them anything for six months and it was during COVID-19. So, we can handle things administratively, but nobody should arm-twist.
“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 CONMESS scale, one and two respectively. So, I think we are doing the implementation.
‘8,000 doctors to benefit from training fund’
“Also, from the monitoring meeting we did this morning, Ministry of Health has gotten the list of doctors who supposedly are to benefit from the Medica 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 or scrutinization and they will now compare what they have with the Post-Graduate 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 2000 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.
“So, this is it and that is the only thing holding back the Residency Fund payment because it is there already for… incurred expenditure has been done by the Finance Minister and it’s in the Accountant-General’s office. So, once they verify the authenticity of those they are submitting, the Accountant-General will pay.
“We are doing that verification because we do not want what happened last time in 2020 to reoccur; in 2020 the submitted names didn’t come through the appropriate source, which is the Postgraduate Medical College and payment was affected and it was discovered that about 588 persons, who were not resident doctors benefited from such money and they are now finding it difficult to make the full refund, but they have to refund that money. Some are refunding, but there is no full consideration of the account. That account has to be reconciled to enable the accountants pay the next round of funding for 2021.
“That’s what I briefed Mr. President on and we also discussed some policies, which is not for public consumption now. We take it in its stride as the days come by, but we discuss politics, the state of our party, nationally and in my state.”
Labour Minister’s condition is shameful, embarrassment to PMB — NARD
… Insists FG yet to meet demands
Reacting yesterday, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, described the call by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, on doctors to go back to work as condition for withdrawal of the Federal government court case against them, NARD, as a shame and an embarrassment to President Muhammadu Buhari.
In a chat with Vanguard, the President of NARD, Dr Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, maintained that NARD never went to court in the first place and will go back to work once its demands were met.
He said: “For public information, NARD never went to court and it’s a shame and an embarrassment to PMB that they are asking us to go to work for them to come out of court. While we appreciate the Judiciary in these trying times in our health system it is obvious that failure to get an ex-parte injunction has killed every iota of reasoning of Dr Chris Ngige. Let it be put on record that NARD is ready to resume work as soon as the demands are met. We as an association are not unaware of tactics by government appointees to stall negotiations thus we moved above him to solve our issues.”
On the conciliation of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, Uyilawa said: “We are now discussing with his boss and we know that hurts. We had to do so to get our legitimate demands sorted out.
“Is it not bad enough that none of his conciliations has ever worked since he assumed office? He insisted that their 12- demands were legitimate and crucial to the well-being of their members and that they are not bothered by a sinking leadership as exhibited by the Minister of Labour and Employment.
“We call on well meaning Nigerians of repute to stay away from lies reeled out by the Ministry of Labour and focus on the demands as put forward by the NARD. If government is doing everything to get the doctors back to work, it means only one thing — that nothing has been done to sort out the issues, ab initio.
“How do you sleep at night when you haven’t paid people their remunerations and you talk of no work, no pay, then what happens to work and no pay? This shows that leadership is lacking and we need another at the helm,” he declared. He added that the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors commenced its strike on the 2nd of August 2021 after a failed Memorandum of Action for 114 days.
He said the Memorandum of Action include issues but are not limited to the payment of salaries for doctors on the GIFMIS platform, payment of the Medical Residency training funds 2019-2021, payment of salary shortfalls of 2014-2016 for over 5,000 of our members, non-domestication of the Residency Act in all state tertiary health institutions, payment of death-in-service benefits to the 19 doctors, now 23 who died from COVID-19 while delivering service to their fatherland.
“Again, the Minister of Labour and Employment has shown Nigerians he’s bereft of ideas and he’s tired of his current post and needs to hand over the reins to someone with in-depth knowledge of the issues bedeviling the health sector,” he insisted.
Dismissing claims by the Federal government that it has met NARD;s 12-point demand, Uyilawa said: “Our members would have resumed if that has been done. They have not met our demands. And on the issue of resuming work, it is only the National Executive Council, NEC, that can decide that,” he stated.
Negotiations ongoing — NMA President
However, when Vanguard contacted the National President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah, he said he was not aware of the latest condition given to NARD by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, insisting that negotiation was still ongoing.
“I am not aware of the condition. I am in the village, so I am not aware and I cannot respond to what I am not aware of. We have made progress. It is ongoing and we hope that it will be resolved soon.
“We are meeting with so many government functionaries to resolve the problem. We hope that very soon it shall be resolved and that is our prayer, that is our expectation and that is our desire,” he stated.
We support NARD — NMA scribe
Also speaking with Vanguard, the Secretary General of NMA, Dr Philips Ekpe, who reiterated the NMA President’s position that negotiation was ongoing, said the association is in support of NARD and there is no way government will insist on no work no pay policy as it failed to negotiate at the appropriate time.
Ekpe said the Federal Government is on the offensive and it is difficult to say it (government) has given conditions to NARD to resume or that the government is insisting on no work no pay.
We are still discussing with the government but whatever they have arrived at, the NMA is ready to support NARD. We are supporting NARD and that is why NMA gave 21 days notice to the Federal Government. “As you can see, government is also working hard to resolve the problem. You don’t say no work no pay when you are at the offensive side. The NARD went on strike on the 2nd of August, the Federal Government did not negotiate on the 3rd, 4th or 5th or 6th, if they had done their job, this would not have dragged this long.
On when the strike is likely to end, Ekpe had no definite answer but was optimistic.
“I cannot tell you when the strike will end but I can tell you that the Federal government has become more proactive, the Vice President and the Presidency are involved. It has got to the point where they are involved and it’s no longer Ministry of Labour and Employment. I believe with the involvement of high level government functionaries, the problem would be resolved soonest.”
JOHESU gives reason for 15-day ultimatum to FG
Meanwhile, the Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU,and Assembly of Healthcare Professional Association, AHPA, has listed some of the unattended welfare issues that necessitated its resolve to issue a 15-day ultimatum to the government.
JOHESU and AHPA threatened to commence an indefinite strike in 15 days time if the Federal Government does not address “outstanding welfare issues” of its members.
Already, the sector is facing disruption in services because of the industrial action commenced by the leadership of the National Association of Resident Doctors on August 2, 2021.
JOHESU, which is the umbrella body for all health workers’ unions and associations, issued the notice on September 2 to Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire.
The notice was jointly signed by National President of Medical and Health Workers’ Union, Biobelemonye Josiah, its Acting Secretary General, Com. Yusuf A. Kiyawa; National President, Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, (NUAHP), Com. Dr. Ogbonna O.C and its General Secretary, Com. Martin Egbanubi.
Others are National President, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Com. Michael E. Nnachi and Deputy Gen. Secretary, NANNM, Com. Nuhu Philip; National President, Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), Com. (Dr.) Mako lo Hassan, and NASU General Secretary, Com (Prince) Peters Adeyemi JP. The notice was also signed by National President, Senior Staff Association of Universities’ Teaching Hospitals Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHR-IAI), Com. (Dr.) E. O. Popoola and its
Ag. Gen. Sect Com. (Dr.) B. A. Akintola and AHPA Executive, Com. Olumide Akintayo.
It was copied to Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Office of the President of the Senate; and speaker, House of Representatives.
CSOs decry doctors’ conditions
Meanwhile, civil society organisations, CSOs, yesterday condemned poor doctors’ welfare, harsh working conditions, and others.
The CSOs’ reactions came against the backdrop of recent recruitment of Nigerian doctors conducted by the Saudi government.
Human lives not valued in Nigeria– ActionAid
Reacting to the ongoing doctors’ strike yesterday, the Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Ene Obi, said: “On more doctors going to Saudi Arabia is obvious that we have fewer doctors than the proportion we currently have, and it is important for the Nigerian government to address the issues the doctors have raised.
“It is important to treat them as human beings. The kind of war going on between them and Ministry of Labour is not something to write home about; the conditions are just not friendly enough, and doctors go through a lot.
“We have lost quite a number of them, even professors, because of coronavirus, and is a life of danger they are encountered with, and you can see a lot of people going out of the country for treatment of different ailments. There are so many qualified Nigerian doctors, and so many expertise we have in-country but we do not value them, and this is very important.
“Leaders are not listening, and majority of them are not undergoing health treatment in Nigeria, and they are using public money as well. In many cases, they go for treatment with allowances while the common man does not have any place to go.”
Hospitals have become cemetaries, mortuaries; sign of health sec-tor collapse — CN
The Convener, Concerned Nigerians, CN, Comrade Deji Adeyanju, said in his reaction: “How can doctors be encouraged when the President does not use the hospitals here for treatment. Also, his wife and children do not use the hospitals here, governors and ministers also. “What kind of message are they passing to the doctors? So, it is right for the President to travel abroad for medical and is not good for doctors who are not appreciated or valued here to go abroad and work?
“Under President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, he has not been able to build or equip any hospital in the country. This is a country where the EFCC’s office is 11-storey building then there is no hospital in Nigeria that is as high as 6-storey building in the country. “We need to find leaders who can do the right thing. How can a leader go abroad for medicals and abandon the hospitals here. This is bad leadership.”
Horrifying, hospitals will practically collapse in days ahead — CDNDC
Also reacting, convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “It is almost given that Nigeria has the highest number of physicians working in foreign lands due to the total breakdown in health infrastructure and the absence of quality welfare package for medical doctors.
“It is, however, not a surprise that Saudi Arabia decided to come directly into our country to recruit and source quality workforce from the exodus of doctors out of the country because we are led by insensitive leaders.
“Nigeria is gripped by a national tragedy of a monumental proportion because many hospitals will practically collapse in the days ahead if the NMA joins, and many more people, especially the commoners, will die avoidable death due to lack of access to quality treatment.”
Doctors’ strike really unfortunate, grave implication for common Nigerians– Yiaga Africa
The Programme Manager, Elections, Yiaga Africa, Paul James, in his reaction, said: “There is no gainsaying that only a healthy population can contribute its quota towards national development. Thus, the health sector remains a critical aspect of economy.
“The ongoing strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors in Nigeria is really unfortunate and it’s implication on Nigerians is dire. Strike by doctors has both economic and health implications on citizens as both government and doctors are yet to find a lasting solution to this saga. “The fact that doctors in Nigeria are desperately seeking greener pasture in other countries shows how they are being shabbily treated in Nigeria. The implication of doctors leaving Nigeria is dire to Nigeria and especially average Nigerians that can barely afford quality medical attention.
“At the moment, the nation is already struggling to meet up with the doctor-per-patient ratio. Thus with the exodus of doctors, it becomes worse.”
Doctors are front line care-givers, being paid peanuts unacceptable– CAAPA
The Director of Programmes, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, Philip Jakpor, said in his reaction: “The mass exodus of Nigerian doctors to Saudi Arabia and the Western countries is a very disturbing testament to how the Nigerian government deals with workers in the crucial sectors of the nation.
“What the medical practitioners are demanding – better conditions of service – is within their rights. While they work to ensure Nigerians enjoy good health, they should be paid what they deserve.
“If members of the National Assembly can get needless packages for merely sitting down, why should those on the front lines of care-giving be paid peanuts? The federal government should listen to them and give them what they want. “It is their just due. Or else, no one should blame them for wanting to improve their well-being. Unfortunately the ordinary Nigerian is the one who suffers as the strike linger.”