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Resident Doctors Strike Enters Day Six As Dispute With Govt Worsens

Doctors (Front and Rear L) from MEDU organization (Doctors for Human Rights).

Chances of an amicable and swift resolution of the dispute between striking resident doctors and the Federal Government took a hit on Friday as both sides stuck to their positions, trading accusations.

The Federal Government insists that the doctors have no basis for the strike they started on Monday and has asked them to resume work, but the doctors say the government must honour their agreement and meet their demands before they pick up their tools again.

On Friday morning, the President of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said the striking doctors will not heed the call made by the Minister of Health a day earlier asking them to resume work.

Dr Osagie Ehanire said on Thursday that there was no basis for the nationwide strike as most of the issues raised by the doctors (seven out of 12) were the responsibility of state governments and not the Federal Government. According to him, the five issues that the Federal Government were responsible for were already being addressed.

But NARD disagreed, faulting the government’s approach to the matter.

“You can’t have signed an MOA (memorandum of agreement) with us and (say) everything you have said, and you have not even called us since the beginning of 2nd of August, 8 am, when the strike started,” the NARD President said during an appearance on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily.

“The first thing you’re telling us is that we signed a document and we are not honouring it, (and) we need to resume work. They need to stand up to their responsibilities.”

This position, and the subsequent refusal of the striking doctors to resume work, angered the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige who threatened to utilise all the labour laws and tools at his disposal to ensure that the doctors face consequences for the strike. This includes the “No work, No pay” rule.

Dr Ngige is also not ready to negotiate with the doctors.

“I won’t meet them,” the visibly angry minister said when asked about the possibility of talks between both parties during an appearance on Politics Today on Friday night.

“No, I won’t; because I have other things to do”.

Like the Health Minister, Dr Ngige argues that it was wrong for the doctors to have gone on strike being essential workers.

He also dismissed the position of the doctors that the Federal Government had not communicated with them or fulfilled the terms of the agreement reached on April 10 when they suspended an earlier strike.

Rather than hold talks with the doctors, the minister said he invoked the “no work, no pay” rule on Friday afternoon.

“They will not receive money for the period that they are on strike and it will never count for a pensionable position in their career,” he said.

Asked if that was a fair position, the minister declared that “that’s what it is”.

“Even the ILO supports it because they (doctors) offer essential services,” he said, adding that they were not supposed to go on strike without notifying him 15 days prior.

Although the minister admitted that NARD sent him “a communique” of their meeting, detailing their grievances and the resolution to go on strike, it was not the same as a trade dispute notification which he insists is what they ought to have sent to him.

Officials of NARD maintain that the government left them with no other choice than to go on strike as the issues resident doctors were facing were serious ones.

“Usually there is no negotiation done until we go on a strike,” said the President of the Association of Resident Doctors at the National Hospital in Abuja, Dr Akanimo Ebong told Channels Television on Monday when the strike started.

The doctors are seeking the immediate payment of all salaries owed to all house officers, including March salaries (regardless of quota system).

They are also asking for an upward review of the hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and the payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance, especially in state-owned-tertiary institutions, among other things.

This time around, even the strike has not led to talks, and with both sides maintaining their position, the strike has dragged into a sixth day, amid concerns that it can have major implications for health care delivery in the country and the race to halt the spread of COVID-19.

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