FG goes tough on NARD

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*Okhuaihesuyi, Ngige

The minister of labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige has said that resident doctors under the umbrella of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have the right to go on strike, their employer, which is the government, also has the right to withhold their pay.

Speaking with journalists after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja at the weekend, the minister said the federal government was ready to withdraw the suit it instituted against NARD if the doctors agreed to return to work.

He maintained that as long as the doctors were on strike, the ‘no work, no pay’ policy would be applied since, according to him, such is the practice globally.

The minister also said the rule is captured in Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act under the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Ngige said NARD’s 12-point had been met stressing that the government would not be arm twisted by the striking doctors not to follow the global standard.

“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 agreement 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 insert, 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 who 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 life, they don’t go on strike any anyhow. They only do picketing and things like that, because people’s lives are involved,” he said.

He said in other climes, workers do not just wake up and embark on strike, especially people of essential duty.

“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 emphasised that government had before now applied the ‘no work, no pay’ rule on some unions that embarked on strike.

“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,” he said.

He also disclosed that 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…ministry of health has gotten the list of doctors who supposedly are to benefit from the Medical 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 scrutinisation and they will now compare what they have with the post-graduate medical college and the chief medical directors who submitted the names,” he added. Sic

He explained that the NARD, in each of the tertiary centres, worked with the chief medical directors to produce those names.

However, he said after the names were verified, it was found out that about 2, 000 names should not have been included 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 they 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 recur; 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,” he added.

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