The Nigerian government says the five days warning strike embarked on Wednesday 17th May by the National Association of Residents Doctors, NARD in the country, was uncalled for and unnecessary. The Government has also described the industrial action it as “illegal”.
Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige made the statement shortly after receiving a letter from the NARD executive, notifying him of the impending industrial action, billed to commence midnight Tuesday, May 16.
Reacting to the letter, dated May 16, 2023, Ngige said on receiving the letter, he contacted the Minister of Health, who informed him that a meeting has been scheduled by his Ministry with the resident Doctors for Wednesday 17th May, 2023.
A statement signed by the Director Press and Public Relations in the Ministry, Olajide Oshundun said that the Minister advised the Doctors to avail themselves of the opportunity for social dialogue with their employer, rather than embarking on a warning strike, which was unknown to the law.
He further stated that the Minister would 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.
According to Ngige, that is the ILO principles at decent work, especially for those rendering essential services. Lives should be protected.
Commenting on the five demands of the doctors, Ngige said the Nigerian Government lacks 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.
According to him, the job of the Nigerian Government is to make policy and where the States disagree, they are at liberty to make their own policy adding that the federal government “cannot bully the States into domesticating the MRTF if they do not want to.
Regarding the issue of immediate payment of the MRTF to their members, he said it was appropriated in the 2023 budget, but has not been released, as the 2022 budget was still running, stating that those in 2022 have all been paid.
The Minister denied the claim by NARD that the Nigerian Government did not pay minimum wage consequential adjustment arrears to their members, saying that all workers in the Education and Health Sectors, and even the Defense agencies benefited from the adjustment.
He noted that the doctors cannot declare nationwide strike because some States were owing their members, pointing out that the federal government cannot also dabble into the issue, being a State matter.
Similarly, he said the Nigerian Government as the Executive arm of government cannot 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”.
The Minister said that although the bill has 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 further advised the doctors not to talk about 200 percent pay rise, as it was not feasible.
The Minister said besides, all the government has done for doctors and other workers in the health sector such as 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 pay rise for doctors.
Meanwhile, the Resident Doctors made good their threat on Wednesday as they downed tools in all public hospitals across the nation where they have their members to drive home their demands.