Strike: Health Ministry, NARD disagree on court case

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The Federal Ministry of Health and the leadership of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) yesterday disagreed over a court case on skipping by medical doctors.The doctors insisted that until the issue is discussed, the current strike would not be called off.

The Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunibe Mamora, informed the House Committee on Healthcare Services that due to an existing court case on the matter, the Minister of Finance informed him that she would not be able to pay the medical doctors’ arrears of salaries and allowances arising from skipping.Mamora and NRAD leaders, led by its President, Dr. Osakhuesuyi Uyilawa, met the House Committee yesterday in Abuja.

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The arrears of salaries and allowances arising from skipping are among the issues the association has tabled for going on strike.Momara said: “I have personally met with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, whose position was that, according to her knowledge, the matter was in court then; she would not be in a position to do anything.”

With the directive to the minister to produce the court document, the Chairman of the House Committee on Healthcare Services, Tanko Sununu said the House would not discourse the issue of skipping since it was before the court.

At the end of the deliberations, the lawmakers directed the ministry to provide the court documents to enable them convene another meeting at an auspicious time to resolve the current face-off between NARD and the Federal Government.

Also,Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, yesterday faulted the criticism of the Federal Government’s response to the ongoing National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) strike and the standoff between the Kaduna State government and organised labour.

The claims, the minister said in a statement by his media office, signed by Emmanuel Nzomiwu, were made by the Director General of Progressives Governors Forum (PGF), Salihu Lukman.Ngige, who expressed disappointment at the PGF DG’s comments, described the statement credited to Lukman as “nauseating, malicious and nonsensical”.

According to him, the PGF DG must have spoken either out of ignorance or malicious intent to smear the ministers “who had put in sleepless nights, engaging in meaningful negotiations, to ensure industrial peace in the Health sector at this critical period of COVID-19 pandemic”.

Ngige added: “It is shocking and outrageously incredible for somebody in his right mind to say that the two ministers, who are both experienced medical doctors, were unable to proactively pre-empt strikes in the Health sector.”

The minister contended that there was no strike notice from NARD, in accordance with the Trade Disputes Act, as there was nothing like resumption of a suspended strike.Hence, he added, invoking Section 43 of the Act, which states in part that for the period a worker withdraws his services, his employers have the right not to pay his wages, is in order.

“Mr. Lukman has, therefore, displayed his shallow knowledge of labour dispute resolution and management by alleging that Ministers Ngige and Ehanire could have proactively stopped this strike and even went further to castigate Ngige over the Kaduna State government/NLC dispute, which led to a four-day strike,” the statement said.

Ngige maintained that as essential workers, resident doctors are not expected to go on strike without giving at least 15 days’ notice to the minister.

He said: “Ab initio, on January 31, 2021, NARD issued a notice of strike detailing their demands and were invited by the minister with the first meeting held in February; in further meetings, their employers, the Ministry of Health, was invited.“These meetings culminated in signing of a Memorandum of Action (MOA) on March 31, 2021.

The NARD President fell ill during the discussion and left, but his Deputy and Secretary signed the MOA. They were happy and the government agreed to look at this MOA. To the chagrin of all, by April 1, same NARD declared a strike, worse on the eve of Easter.

“They were brought back and expressed misgivings in some areas in the MOA and re-negotiation started. They also accepted that some of the issues they held were in error. So, by April 9, both the government and NARD signed an addendum to areas of the resident doctors’ concern and fixed timelines for those things to be actualised, and they were all actualised.

He added: “They (doctors) submitted names and payment started. NARD, however, claimed that about 114 house officers from that stream have not been paid nationally, out of over 40 hospitals that are Federal Government-owned.

This is not inclusive of state-owned hospitals.“Unfortunately, all the blames are being heaped on the Federal Government. Some of the 114 are people who have supplied details that are not correct. But 114 is an infinitesimal number. Of course, they have been asked to resubmit these details.”

On the issue of those removed from the scheme of service, the minister noted that house officers had never been on the scheme of service, which is a career path for doctors in the civil service which ought not include internship doctors who may decide not to practise at the end of their training.

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