The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige has said that the Federal Government was ready to withdraw its case against striking resident doctors provided they return to their duty post, warning that it will implement the ‘no work, no pay’ rule according to a global standard.
The Federal Government took the striking doctors to the Industrial Court of Nigeria over its strike warning that there will be grievous circumstances if they failed to return.
Briefing State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Minister said that the 12-points demand of the members of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, 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.
“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 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 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 live, they don’t go on strike any anyhow. They only do picketing and things like that, because people’s lives are involved.”
He stressed that government had before now applied the ‘no work, no pay’ rule on some unions that embarked on strike.
According to him, “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 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 gotten the list of doctors who supposedly are to benefit from the Medica Residency Training Fund. Total submission of about 8000 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 an it’s in the Accountant-General’s office. So, once the 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.”
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 (SSAUTHRIAI), 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; Speaker
House of Representatives; The Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment; The Director General, Department of State Service; The Inspector General of Police Force; The Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, The President, Nigeria Labour Congress and The President, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria.
Some of the welfare issues include the adjustment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHES), payment of all withheld salaries, review of the implementation of COVID-19 special inducement and hazard allowance, increase in retirement age from 60 to 65 years for health workers and 70 years for consultants, among others.
“Others are payment of reviewed hazard allowance in terms of payment that guarantee fairness and justice to all concerned, payment of actual 30 percent consolidated basic shift duty allowance to nurses/midwives and others,” Josiah said.
“Payment of teaching allowance to members on CONHESS 7 and 8 (nurses, midwives and others) and proper placement of nurse graduates and interns,” the letter partly read.
The union also listed other demands to include the payment of outstanding salaries of intern health professionals and proper implementation of the consultant pharmacist cadre for pharmacists in the public sector.
The letter reads: “You will recall that up till the time of writing this letter, the federal government has not deemed it fit to honour the terms of settlement entered into with JOHESU since September 2017.
“This is especially the upward review of CONHESS salary structure as agreed, to be completed within five weeks from the date of agreement amongst other requests.
“Government did not deem it fit to address these key issues during the duration of the last seven days warning strike and has only met with JOHESU on July 12.
“JOHESU, in compliance with the provision of Section 41 of the Trade Disputes Act Cap.T8 LFN 2004, is constrained to give the Federal Government of Nigeria 15 days ultimatum with effect from September 3.
“This also is to inform you that with effect from midnight of September 17, all our members in the federal health institutions shall embark on indefinite strike action in all state and local government health institutions.
“You are all placed on red alert for the strike if the federal government foot drags in attending to our demands.”
The unions said they have shown patriotism despite the government’s “nonchalant attitude” to the welfare of health workers.