—As Resident Doctors insist on salary alert before calling off strike

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

ABUJA – THE conciliation meeting between the Federal Government Negotiation Team and the striking National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, ended in deadlock.

Cross section of officials during the meeting over the indefinite strike action of the Resident Doctors at the Conference Hall, Ministry of Labour, Federal Secretariat, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

While the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige who was the convener of the meeting made frantic efforts to ensure that the Resident Doctors called off the strike, the doctors insisted that until they received alerts of the unpaid salaries, they would not suspend the strike.

The meeting which started about 2:30pm yesterday after the preliminary meeting between the government team and few officials of NARD, finished early hours of Thursday.

Intermittently the leaders of Resident Doctors stormed out of the venue of the meeting to consult with the members on the position of the government.

Some of the aggrieved members of NARD who preferred to loiter outside instead of remaining inside the conference room where the meeting was taking place threatened to impeach the leadership if they concede to signing any agreement with the Federal Government’s Negotiation team without receiving alerts.

Following prolonged negotiation which remained inconclusive as at 12 30 am, the parties unanimously resolved that the nationwide industrial action should be suspended as soon as the payment alert is received from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) today as promised by the Federal Government’s team.

Some of the aggrieved resident doctors who were mostly in their mid-40s frowned at the attempts by Chris Ngige-led Negotiation Team to coarse them to suspend the strike without any tenable evidence of payment as claimed by the Minister during the opening remarks.

One of the Resident Doctors who shunned all entreaties from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation lamented that he trekked about 1000 kilometers to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 elections.

He said, “Until we receive alerts we are not going to call off the strike. I don’t have any trust in the government. I trekked over 1000 kilometers during the elections despite the Boko Haram attack in Maiduguri to vote for President Buhari.

“Buhari went to London for treatment and he paid the doctors there but he does not want to pay us. We are not going to call off the strike until we get alerts. In fact, it is the government that is prolonging the strike.

He said that the medical personnel and facilities of various oversea hospitals where most of the public office holders receive treatment were functional and effectively managed by their respective governments.

Another source privy to the negotiation, hinted that there was no payment made by the apex bank on the salary arrears as contained in the six-point demand tabled by the Resident Doctors.

However, some members of the Federal Government’s negotiation team from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation who left the meeting was summoned back by the Minister of Labour and Employment.

Ngige who chaired the meeting, had during the engagement pleaded with the Resident Doctors to make sacrifice in the interest of the country.

The Resident Doctors had as the pressure from Ngige for them to call off the strike was too much said they should be given till Saturday so that the alerts would have come but the Minister rejected the proposal saying that Saturday was far.

LACK of trust and confidence on the side of the Federal Government was responsible for the nationwide indefinite strike embarked upon by members of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, the National President of Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Mike Ogirima has said.

But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige said that the strike declared by the resident doctors was in violation of Collective Bargain Agreement, CBA, and Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act, as there was a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, that was entered into between the doctors and the government.

Speaking at the opening ceremony before the relevant stakeholders entered into closed-door session, the National President of NMA, Dr. Ogirima said, “We have listened to you (Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige) and that is why we are here.

“We hope that the trust that was not there when MoU was signed will be restored at this meeting and once that trust is restored and evidences of implementations of those six point demands are seen, I hope this will be the shortest strike by Resident Doctors.”

But the Minister insisted that the striking resident doctors did not observe the principles of CBA before embarking on the strike.

According to him, “We are here for an emergency meeting to try and resolve the strike embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors. You will recall that last Thursday, we were here and we had very fruitful deliberations and produced a memorandum of settlement.

“We all signed that agreement which was like a collective bargaining agreement. One of the clauses there was that NARD should revert back to their National Executive Committee, present the agreement which was a CBA with a view to shelving the strike that they had proposed. We adjourned the meeting to November 2 with which period we expected the implementation of the items on the agreement.

“We were surprised that at the NEC meeting, the CBA that was enter d into was repudiated and the Association embarked on strike. We had to contact the leadership of NARD and the leadership of the NMA and agreed to reconvene today. Therefore our meeting proposed for November 2 was brought forward so that we could meet today.

“We are meeting today (yesterday) 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 f is wrong, I will tell them that they are wrong. If the employees is wrong, I will say so and at the end of the day, we will find a way to conciliate and make for a equitable industrial relations.

“We are all gathered here and the Ministry of Health looks like they are already being short changed because by section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act of the Federation, T8, T9, 2004, once conciliation starts by the Minister, no party is allowed to stage a lock out either for employees or embark on strike against the employers.

“It is based on this ground 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. So, as a chief conciliator, I have drawn a line and say let us all come back and look at the issues.

“If there are issues in the CBA that NARD feels that their interest has not been properly taken care of, they would have written to the ministry and come back for this type of meeting. The alternative would not have been to embark on a proposed strike. That is not industrial relations.

“I want to pay tribute to the President of NMA for making out time to come and all areas of dispute will be resolved in this meeting so that the doctors can go back to their patients. For me, any other strike can be handled in a way that you don’t care about the little time you lose. But in essential services, especially in medical service, we can’t replace lives that are lost. That is why we had to reconvene this meeting few hours after you started your strike and we hope that this meeting will resolve the rough edges in the CBA if there are any.

“I can assure you even before e start this meeting that we have had a government side meeting and reviewed the agreement and want to say that within 48 hours, everybody has started implementation of this CBA.

“The Accountant General’s office has done what they are supposed to do and remitted the money from the short fall to the CBN. I feel that if you had done more consultations, you would not have taken the steps that you took. I don’t want to be legalistic about it because you have breached section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act, but all these are the sacrifices we have to make.”

The President of NARD said that he reserved his comments till the end of the meeting.

Present at the meeting were the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, the Minister of State for Labour, Prof. Stephen Ocheni, Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, the representative of the Head of Service, the Chairman of Committee of Chief Medical Directors among others.

As at the time of filing this report, the meeting which started about 3pm was still ongoing despite the assurances from the Minster of Labour and Employment that it would last about 30 minutes

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