Strike: FG, Doctors’ Negotiation Ends In Deadlock
of reaching a truce that might culminate in ending the month long strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) ended on an inconclusive note on Wednesday, as stakeholders shifted the deliberations to next week.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, and officials of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) locked horns on Tuesday night till early hours of Wednesday, trying to reach an agreement on the proposed review of new hazard allowance for doctors working in government owned hospitals but they failed to arrive at a common ground, forcing them to reschedule for next week.
The marathon meeting also involved the Presidential Committee on Salaries with the leadership of NMA and its affiliates.
All these come just as the ultimatum given by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) to embark on indefinite strike expires on September 17.
Ngige recalled that they started this discussion with all the health workers since March but along the line, NMA disagreed on fundamental principles of negotiation with JOHESU.
He explained that the president of NMA requested that the discussion should be compartmentalised, which is allowed in Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
According to the minister, when people who are not doing the same work are negotiating an interest, if they decide to be separated, it can be done ab initio or midway, but that will put a lot of load on the negotiator.
He, however, appealed to the NMA and JOHESU to sheathe their swords to enable the conclusion of discussion on the matter before the end of September.
Ngige said, “If we do so, it is to your own advantage because it has to be captured in the 2022 budget. Government will also look at its purse and if there is money, the president will sign and it will be a win-win situation for all of us.
“Last week, we discussed with JOHESU. We had a fruitful discussion. It is in that spirit that I am asking you that this should be fruitful, so that we can rest the issue of paying N5000 hazard allowance. In 2020, it was not you who informed government. It was by our own volition that we invited both sides to the meeting where we handed over special COVID allowances to medical and dental workers and other allied health workers and we did it seamlessly. I don’t know whether it was because of the fear of COVID that you worked together.
“Today, the divide is there. Having read the altercation between you and JOHESU, which is in the media, we can’t believe that both of you are managing one patient. We are appealing to you, let us unite and see how we can navigate this thing. This is COVID-19 period. Stop this dichotomy between you and JOHESU. Both of you are managing one patient. It is team work. Nobody can do it alone.”
On the prolonged strike of NARD, Ngige called out striking resident doctors, saying they are insensitive to the plight of Nigerians by embarking on strike at the middle of a pandemic.
He maintained that the Federal Government has been religiously implementing its own part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it signed with the NMA, but rather than do their own part, the doctors have chosen to make the government the weeping dog.
While pointing out that he had remained neutral as the conciliator, the minister made it clear that he would no longer allow the idea of unions whipping the government every time they come for negotiation, even when the government was trying its utmost best and the other side liable of not doing their own part.
He explained that timeframes were fixed for actions to be taken, with those who are to take the actions spelt out.
On the issue of MEDSABAN and MDCAN raised by NMA, Ngige said they set up a committee, which had held its inaugural meeting, adding that even before their inaugural meeting, the government had placed all of them back on CONMESS.
“I used my powers as conciliator to say that there is a court judgment and that the government must obey. Court judgments are not what you pick and choose. No matter how bad a court judgment, affected persons must obey, whether you are government or private sector. A court has ordered that these people should be placed back on CONMESS, pending when it concludes this suit.
“Again, we have a Presidential Committee on Salaries and Wages. We put every wage on hold. There is a circular to that. So, we would have had a look at it before the amputation of people’s income in an emergency situation of COVID-19. Government is sensitive. I am sensitive to all these things.”
He insisted that the doctors were the people who are not sensitive because they embarked on strike during a pandemic whereas all the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the laws of the country say that in emergencies, strike is not allowed, not to talk of people on essential services.
“In emergency situations where the lives of a small population or whole and their safety would be affected, people do not go on strike. It is there in our laws. I will give it to you people to read. Doctors are supposed to be educated people, unless you want us to agree with what lawyers are saying that they are the learned people and every other people do not know anything. Doctors are educated people. If you are educated people, learning is part of education. So, we must balance things.”
Making remarks, the Secretary General of NMA, Dr. Philip Ekpe, called for prompt attention to resolve the anarchy in the health sector, urging the Federal Ministry of Health to explore the window opened by the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari to see that all the negotiations were not in vain.
Others from the government side at the meeting were the Minister of State, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora; the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mahmuda Mamman, and his Labour counterpart, Peter Tarfa; the Chairman of National Salaries and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta, and representatives of the Accountant General of the Federal and Director General of Budget Office.