The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige on Friday said he thought it was a prank when the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) embarked on a nationwide strike on August 2.
Ngige, who stated this while speaking at the Nigerian Health Commissioners Forum Quarterly meeting in Abuja, assured that the federal government did everything possible to stop the ongoing nationwide strike by NARD.
According to him, the doctors were “sleeping on their rights until COVID-19 pandemic broke out last year”, and the federal government decided to review the N5,000 hazard allowance paid to them since 1991.
He said doctors and other health workers were paid “bumper money” as special COVID hazard allowance for three months in the first instance, to the tune of N32 billion, while states were told to pay as much as they could afford.
The Minister also gave a breakdown of what has happened in relation to the doctors’ strike from September 2020 till date.
“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,” the statement reads.
“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.”
Ngige said the federal government also approved N11.3 billion for group life insurance in 2020, and renewed it in 2021, adding that a series of meetings were held on hazard allowance until there was disagreement between the doctors and the health workers’ union.
“They are the ones delaying action on this. Every other issue 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,” he said.
The minister also highlighted other areas the federal government has worked on meeting the demands of the doctors, and expressed concern that despite the order by the National Industrial Court, they were yet to call off the strike.
“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,” he said.
“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 September 15.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has ordered the stoppage of salaries and allowances of the striking resident doctors as it has commenced the implementation of the ‘no work, no pay’ rule with effect from Monday, August 2.