Resident doctors on nationwide strike, say pact with FG signed under duress

Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) yesterday carried out its threat to embark on a nationwide strike over the government’s failure to meet their demands including payment of salaries owed to all house officers.

The strike action took place despite Federal Government’s effort to persuade the doctors to shelve the planned industrial action.

This is as the doctors said that the agreement it signed with the government to withdraw the strike ultimatum was done under duress.

Meanwhile, the association on its Twitter handle @nard_nigeria has appealed to Nigerians for understanding, noting that the strike is not meant to hurt them but to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari, Federal Ministry of Health whose responsibilities amongst others is to care for her citizens.

“Nigerians must understand that we love them and the strike is not intended to hurt them but to challenge the Nigerian government @MBuhari @Fmohnigeria @LabourMinNG whose responsibilities amongst others is to care for her citizens and labour force to do the needful.”

The union’s President, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, also confirmed to Journalists that the strike had commenced by 8 am Thursday despite the signing of a Memorandum of Action (MoA) with the Federal Government on Wednesday.

The MoA was geared towards averting the planned nationwide strike of resident doctors billed to commence Thursday, April 1.

The agreement was signed at midnight on Wednesday after a marathon meeting between the Government side and the leadership of NARD at the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.

The meeting which lasted seven hours deliberated on the issues raised by the aggrieved doctors in their Notice of Trade Dispute including the non-payment of salaries of some house officers, non-recruitment of house officers, abolishment of the bench fees for doctors undergoing training in other hospitals, non-payment of National Minimum Wage and hazard allowances.

However, while disclosing that the doctors are tired of signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Federal Government without implementation, Dr. Okhuaihesuyi said the agreement has never been fulfilled on the part of the government.

“We signed an agreement that has been signed since 10 years ago, but with no implementation. It is not about signing an agreement, agreement has been signed multiple times under pressure”, he said.

He further disclosed that the leadership of NARD is holding a meeting with members via zoom, Thursday to decide whether to proceed with the strike or not.

He said they will present government’s proposals to the members at the meeting and allow the congress to decide the way forward.

Briefing journalists on the outcome, Ngige assured that all the things written in the MOA will be implemented.

He said, “Twelve hours is a lot of time. Everybody will be working. Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) will be working. And hopefully by tomorrow, you will experience the payment as agreed here for the second category of doctors (an overflow of the MDCN quota). We hope it must happen tomorrow and continue.

“So, by the time the chairman of the CMDs comes up with his final list and harmonise it with MDCN, we won’t have issue anymore over this payment or whether some doctors have not been paid.”

With regards to other issues raised by the doctors at the meeting, Ngige explained that timelines have been put on them, the reason why they were going to reconvene in one month’s time to look at the assignments given, to know who performed and who has not performed.

“And with this MOA, we hope you get to your members to let them understand better that government has moved proactively to address most of the issues ahead of your coming.”

According to the Minister, in labour parlance, what the government side has done means that they have arrested the impending industrial dispute of the doctors and the issues in contention, being addressed.

“We are happy that you understand. So, I give you an assurance that most of the things written here will be done. We will assist the Federal Ministry of Health (FMH), Finance Ministry and Office of Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) to make sure that they keep to their own side of the bargain.

“The MOA says that you will talk to your people and we hope that when you come to collect your own copy tomorrow, you can tell the nation that you people are not strike mongers and that you are happy with the decisions taken so far.”

The doctors in their demands had called for the immediate payment of all salaries owed to all house officers, including March salaries (regardless of quota system) before the end of business on March 31.

They also demanded the immediate payment of all salary arrears, including March salaries for members in all Federal (GIFMIS platform) and State Tertiary Health Institutions across the country, especially ASUTH, IMSUTH, and UNIMEDTH.

NARD sought an upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50 percent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance, especially in state-owned-tertiary Institutions.

They called for the abolishment of the exorbitant bench fees being paid by their members on outside postings in all training institutions across the country with immediate effect.

According to the doctors, salary shortfalls of 2014, 2015, and 2016 should be paid to their members in all federal institutions, including state-owned institutions as earlier agreed with the government.

They asked for the payment of death in service insurance for all health workers who died as a result of COVID-19 infection or other infectious diseases in the country.

Other demands, made at the meeting of the National Executive Council of the union held on Saturday last week at the National Hospital in Abuja, read: Universal domestication/implementation of the 2017 MRTA by all Federal Government and State-owned Training Institutions to ensure proper funding of Residency Training in the country as stipulated by the Act.

Immediate payment of 2019, the balance of 2020 and 2021 Medical Residency Training Funds (MRTF) to our members including those under state government employ.

Immediate implementation of September 2017 Memorandum of Terms of Settlement (MOTOS) between NARD and the Federal Government of Nigeria in order to bring lasting peace to the health sector and curb the ongoing ugly trend of brain drain from the health sector.

Immediate review of the Act regulating Postgraduate Medical Training in Nigeria in line with International Best Practices to remove the unnecessary rigors in Residency Training in Nigeria, one of the factors attributed to brain drain in the health sector.

Immediate commencement of employment into all Government-owned hospitals to improve service delivery to Nigerians, enhance Residency Training, and curb the attendant brain drain in the health sector.

It also demanded the reintroduction of medical super salary structure and specialist allowance for all Doctors as already approved for some other health workers. This will go a long way in ensuring peace in the health sector.

The NEC unanimously demanded the sack of the Registrar of MDCN for failure to demonstrate competence in the handling of the central placement of house officers. This will give room for smooth implementation of the central placement of house officers without further delays.

Finally, the NEC reiterated her commitment to the smooth running of all tertiary institutions in the country and the provision of specialist healthcare to Nigerians but urge the Federal Government to urgently meet the above demands in order to avert this avoidable industrial action.

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