Minister of labour, Dr. Chris Ngige has expressed regret over confusion injected in the ongoing negotiations with members of the Association of Resident Doctors ( ARD) who have been on nationwide strike for over a month now.
According to him, while the federal government has met all the 12-point demands of the association, members are trying to twist the hand of the government to do what is illegal in international law.
The Minister, who spoke to newsmen today, September 5, after an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja, said that even 2,000 names of none qualified members were submitted for payment of certain emoluments.
“From the monitoring meeting we did this morning, Ministry of Health has gotten the list of doctors who supposedly are to benefit from the Medica Residency Training Fund.
“A total submission of about 8,000 names were gotten and the Ministry of Health is scrutinising them. We have done the first round of scrutinization and they will now compare what they have with the Post-Graduate Medical College and the Chief Medical Directors who submitted the names.
“The Association of Resident Doctors in each of the tertiary centres, worked with the CMDs to produce those names, but now that the names are being verified, we discovered that about 2,000 names shouldn’t be there because they don’t have what is called Postgraduate Reference Numbers of National Postgraduate Medical College and (or) that of the West African Postgraduate Medical College.
“We are doing that verification because we do not want what happened last time in 2020 to reoccur; in 2020 the submitted names didn’t come through the appropriate source, which is the Postgraduate Medical College and payment was affected and it was discovered that about 588 persons, who were not resident doctors benefited from such money and they are now finding it difficult to make the full refund.
“Some are refunding, but there is no full consideration of the account. That account has to be reconciled to enable the accountants pay the next round of funding for 2021.”
Dr. Ngige said that during his audience with the President, they discussed the state of the healthcare system and the ongoing industrial disputes which has as at today, entered the 33rd day.
He said that government has been doing everything possible to make sure they get back to work, including accepting to implement all the 12-point issues they raised in their demands.
“We have done all; we have come to agreements on all, including those that even affect the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria and medical doctors who are in academics and teaching universities.
“So, we have handled all. The only point of disagreement now is that they said that in the agreements and the memorandum of action, government should insert that Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act will not apply to them. That section says that when a worker withdraws his services from his employer, the employer is at liberty to withhold payment of emoluments to him and the ILO (International Labour Organization) principles at work and strike said you can use that money to pay other people you have engaged in that particular period of strike.
“So, you have a right to strike, but your employer has also the right to withhold your emoluments. More importantly, in other climes, before unions go on strike, by that principle, they discuss with their workers and bring out what they call strike funds and it’s from that strike funds that the union will use to pay the workers who have gone on strike. They will also agree on the number of days the strike will last.
“That’s why overseas and in other climes, you don’t see strikes getting more than three days or four days or five days highest, and more importantly again, people on essential services, medical services, in particular, where you can lose live, they don’t go on strike anyhow. They only do picketing and things like that, because people’s lives are involved.
“So, this is where we are with them and we are saying that even if anybody cares to put it in any agreement, that clause will be void ab initio because it’s against the law of the land and we will not, as a government, succumb to undue arm twisting and then go and sign that. “Other workers have lost their pay during strikes; the Joint Health Systems Union (JOHESU). They lost their pay in 2018 when they went on four month strike, they lost about two or three months pay when the no-work, no-pay was invoked.
“Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), no-work, no-pay applied to them. Nobody paid them anything for six months and it was during COVID-19.
“So, we can handle things administratively, but nobody should arm-twist us.
“I briefed Mr. President and we have agreed that they should come back to work and if they come back to work, we can take other things from there; we’ll drop the case in court and then they will come back and get things done.”