By Uche Amunike
The Federal Government of Nigeria has kicked against the doctors strike being planned by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), to kick off for five days, effective midnight of May 16, 2023.
Speaking, after receiving the letter from the NARD executive, notifying him about the upcoming doctors’ strike, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige said that he had contacted the Minister of Health, who informed him that a meeting had been scheduled by his office with the doctors on Wednesday, May 17th.
He advised the doctors to call off the warning strike and present themselves for social dialogue with the minister, especially as the strike is not recognized by law.
‘His words: ‘I will advise them to attend the meeting with the Minister of Health tomorrow. I will also advise them very strongly not to go on five-day warning strike. There is nothing like warning strike. A strike is a strike.’
‘If they want to take that risk, the options are there. 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.’
‘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 adhoc people for those five days and they will use the money of the people who went on strike to pay the adhoc doctors. That is the ILO principles at decent work, especially for those rendering essential services. 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.’
In reaction to the five demands made by the doctors, he stated that the federal government does not have the powers to compel states to domesticate the Medical Residency Training Fund, since health is in the residual list where both the federal and state governments have the powers to legislate.
He explained that the job of the federal government is to make policies, but if the states do not agree with the policy, they are at liberty to make their own policies, adding that the government cannot bully the states into domesticating the RTF if they do not want to.
As for the issue of making immediate payments of the MRTF to their members, he stated that it was appropriated in the 2023 budget but is yet to be released, because the 2022 budget was still running. He, however stated that those in 2022 have all been paid.
He refuted the claims made by the resident doctors that the federal government did not pay minimum wage consequential adjustment arrears to their members, adding that every worker in the education and health sector and even the defense agencies benefited from the adjustment.
He noted that the doctors’ strike was a bad idea because some states were owing their members and that the federal government would not dabble into the issue, being a state matter.
He also said that, as the executive arm of government, the federal government cannot meddle into the bill at the National Assembly to bond doctors for five years because it is a private members bill. Any intervention made by the executive on the matter infringes on the autonomy and independence of the legislative arm of government, he explained.
He further stated that even though the bill has passed through the first and second reading, it would definitely be shut down at the public hearing because the law does not support forced labour.
He advised the doctors to rule out the issue of getting 200% pay rise because it was not feasible. He maintained that the government had done a lot for doctors and other workers in the health sector. He cited the upward review of hazard allowances and said that the Nigerian Medical Association was already dialoguing with the Federal Ministry of Health, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission and the Presidential Committee on Salaries on Pay Rise for Doctors. Therefore it was inappropriate for a doctors’ strike to be carried out by student doctors, when consultants training them, were already negotiating with the federal government.