By Joan Nwagwu
The Federal Government has explained the various steps it had taken to end the ongoing nationwide strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which has paralysed activities in government-owned hospitals nationwide.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, said this while addressing the Nigerian Health Commissioners’ Forum Quarterly meeting on Friday in Abuja.
Ngige said this in a statement signed by Mr Charles Akpan, Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the ministry.
The minister recalled that the doctors were “sleeping on their rights until COVID-19 pandemic broke out last year” and the Federal Government felt that, the N5,000 hazard allowance paid to them since 1991 was too paltry.
He noted that the Federal Government paid the doctors and other health workers “bumper money” as special COVID hazard allowance for three months in the first instance, to the tune of N32 billion.
He said that states were told to pay as much as they could afford.
He, however, narrated to the Health Commissioners the trajectory of the current strike.
“In September 2020, they put a notice of strike, asking for Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF), by which each of them will get N542,000 to cover cost of books and journals for that particular examination, transportation and lodging for three days.
“Luckily, a supplementary budget was being put together and it was included and was paid to them. They called off the strike.
“By March this year, they listed other things again. They said the Residency Training Fund is not in 2021 budget.
”They also needed the hazard allowance to be upgraded and demanded that States should domesticate Residency Training Act.
“They said some states owed their people long months of salaries. They also wanted skipping allowance and arrears of consequential adjustment to minimum wage.
“Before we could say Jack Robinson, they went on strike on April 1. I thought it was April fool until April 2 when we didn’t see them at work.
“I told them that, they didn’t give the mandatory 21 days notice to their employers who have written to me to complain.
”However, we returned to the table. Government pledged that the 2021 Residency Training Fund will be captured in the supplementary budget. This has been done and payment is ready,” he said.
Ngige noted that, the the Federal Government had also approved N11.3bn for Group Life Insurance in 2020 and renewed it in 2021.
He said government had also held a series of conjoint NMA-JOHESU meetings on hazard allowance until the two disagreed and then asked for separate negotiations.
”They are the ones delaying action on this.
“Every other issues bordering on what the states have failed to do with doctors is where our hands are tied, but Federal Government agreed to speak to the Governor’s Forum.
“The arrears of consequential adjustment to the minimum wage cuts across sectors.
“Anyway, N160 billion earmarked for it has been exhausted and the next thing to do is to push for more. But really, some hospitals have got.
”We also abolished bench fees for Residency Training for those doing specialty. At this, the doctors left the negotiation happy,” he said.
Ngige added that they returned again on July 22, 2021,”complaining about things that were undone and the Government updated them on the efforts being made to address their demands.
“We told them that the Residency Training Fund is in the supplementary budget signed into law.
“So, we will now approach the World Bank to lend to CBN and from there, we will obtain the Naira component and it will be paid.
“They said one hospital, LUTH, charged their member bench fee. We inquired and the CMD LUTH said the person came before the circular was issued. So, the person will be refunded.
“They said 114 house officers have not been paid out of 3,000. The Registrar of MDCN said it looks like their particulars were wrong or they did not validate, because they are expected to validate on the 15th of every month.
”They were satisfied. They left only for us to hear that after their NEC in Benin, they went on strike and said it will not be called off until they get alert.
“They equally said they were removed from the scheme of service. The Head of Service of the Federation now explained to them that career progression should not be for a temporary person.
”The House officer has a provisional licence. An NYSC doctor is on national service. However, we agreed that we should do an addendum circular to explain that they should not be in scheme of service,” he said.
According to the minister, they said Lagos has started implementing and paying them allowance of N15,000 as call duty for NYSC. I told them that it is wrong if Lagos was doing that, because their wage structure is still the same.
He added that the Head of Service of the Federation, called Head of service Lagos and she explained that there was nothing like that.
”Lagos wrote and we showed it to them, but they said the circular must be withdrawn. Government doesn’t function that way. If it will be withdrawn, it will go to Council on Establishment.
”If you cannot wait, we do you an addendum circular on the remuneration. The other money is being processed, but you have to call off the strike.
“They said they will not call off till they get alerts. So, by law, we sent them to industrial court.
‘ “Section 17 of the Trade Dispute Act says if conciliation fails, you transmit to court. They got to court. The court ordered them to return to work while issues are discussed.
“The court said, employees cease hostilities with your employer and employer cease hostilities against your employee.
” They said a senior lawyer told them that cessation of hostilities doesn’t mean that they should call off the strike. The court adjourned until Sept. 15,” Ngige said.