Three ministers and tens of medical doctors were on Wednesday engaged in a marathon meeting over the strike embarked on by the National Association of Resident Doctors.
The meeting, which held at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, had in attendance the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige; the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association; representatives of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation among others.
At the commencement of the meeting before they entered into a private session, Ngige, who is the chief negotiator, berated the doctors for embarking on strike, accusing them of breaching the constitution.
Ngige recalled that a meeting was held between the interested parties last week where decisions were made.
He, therefore, argued that it was unethical for NARD to have called a strike when talks were ongoing.
The minister said he was hopeful that the current strike would be the shortest in the history of Nigeria, urging them to immediately call it off.
Ngige said, “We are meeting today (Wednesday) in an atmosphere in which in industrial dispute relations, I do not think is very fair to the Federal Ministry of Health who are the employers of the doctors.
“In this ministry, we act as conciliators and in such situation, even though I am a government minister, I am a Chief Conciliator. If the government is wrong, I will tell them that they are wrong. If the employees are wrong, I will say so and at the end of the day, we will find a way to conciliate and make for an equitable industrial relations.
“We are all gathered here and the Ministry of Health looks like they are already being shortchanged because by Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act of the Federation, T8, T9, 2004, once a conciliation starts by the minister, no party is allowed to stage a ‘lock out’. Employees are also not allowed to embark on strike against the employers in such a situation.
“ It is based on this that I say that the Federal Ministry of Health is already being short changed because as it were, it is like the worker is trying to intimidate the employer.”
The NMA President, Prof. Mike Ogirima, said he was hopeful that both parties would be able to settle their differences.
He said he hoped that the strike would be the shortest in history.
Ogirima added, “We have listened to you and that is why we are here. We hope that the trust that was not there when the MoU was signed would be restored at this meeting and once that trust is restored and evidence of implementations of those six-point demands are seen, I hope this will be the shortest strike by resident doctors.”
The meeting which began around 2pm was still ongoing after 11pm on Wednesday.
A source at the meeting said that both parties had agreed on the conditions to call off the strike some minutes to 11pm, but the doctors suddenly changed their minds few minutes to the time a communiqué was to be read.
“The doctors suddenly changed their minds saying they doubt the sincerity of the government in implementing the terms. The ministers are pleading with them as I’m talking to you now (11.20pm). I don’t know how soon they will accept the ministers’ plea,” the top source close to one of the misters said.
As of the time of filing this report (11:27pm), no agreement has been reach on whether the strike will be called off immediately or not.
Some of the demands of the resident doctors were that they wanted shortfall of salaries to be paid as well as enrolment in the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System.
The doctors also demanded to be added in the government’s pension scheme as well as the ‘circularisation’ of house officers’ pay.
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria has described the statement credited to the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, that Chief Medical Directors should engage the services of locum doctors and National Youth Service Corps doctors to do the work of resident doctors as reckless.
The union, in a statement signed by the TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama and his Secretary General, Musa-Lawal Ozigi, said it was saddened that at a time when nations were building strong health sectors, Nigerian leaders viewed the engagement of casual workers as the solution to challenges in the sector.
TUC argued that asking consultants to work overtime during the strike could endanger the lives of patients.
Meanwhile, the Osun State Governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, has said his administration will not pay doctors full salaries while other workers are placed on half salaries.
The governor, who stated this in Osogbo on Wednesday, argued that giving special treatment to the doctors would cause chaos because other workers would begin to make demands which the state could not afford because of the economic situation.
The governor, who was represented by his deputy, Mrs Titi Laoye-Tomori, said this at a ceremony to mark the distribution of 2.9 million long-lasting insecticidal nets by the state government in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health and Global Fund.
Medical doctors, under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association in Osun State, had last week given a 21-day ultimatum to the state government to resume payment of full salaries and address alleged poor state of hospitals in the state.
Source: Punch News