•Apologises to Nigerians
•‘Families of colleagues who died fighting Covid-19 unpaid’
By Chioma Obinna
Amid fresh wave of coronavirus pandemic and raging cholera, medical doctors under the auspices of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, have been on strike over unpaid salaries and poor benefits in the last 14 days. Despite the effects of the strike on Nigerians seeking healthcare in the various hospitals, there is no end in sight to the protracted strike.
Pathetic stories of patients who have suffered various injuries and deaths abound. Sadly, both the Nigerian government and medical doctors have refused to shift their position. While the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, remains adamant that the doctors are not supposed to go on strike now, the striking doctors have continued to protest over unpaid salaries and what the association describes as poor working conditions and benefits for its members.
They also accused the federal government of falling short on promises made earlier this year to meet these demands.
According to them, 119 days after they suspended the first strike in April this year, government reneged on all promises they made, leading to the ongoing nationwide indefinite strike.
Sunday Vanguard spoke to the President of NARD, Dr. Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa
There seems to be no end in sight to doctors’ strike
These issues can be traced to 2014. We reached an agreement and government reneged on them.
We insist that the Memorandum of Action signed with government must be met. We would not be oppressed. So far, they are asking us to trust government, which we trusted 119 days ago and nothing has happened.
The Ministry of Health always comes with a tactic that the case was in court. This is not true because the Head of Service at the time released a memo on the status quo ante with regards to skipping.
Our members, during the COVID-19 pandemic, lost their lives. We approached government to pay them the death in service benefits. Up until now, nothing has been done in that light.
We have our members who were on the GIFMIS payment platform, government gave a circular that they all be moved to the IPPIS. It started well only after we went on the first strike. As soon as we called off the strike the Head of the Service gave an order that they should stop featuring and migration of our members this in itself has made our doctors not to have their salaries for over four months now.
Also, we have some states like Imo, Ondo, Abia where our members are still receiving 62 percent of their salaries and are even owed normal salaries from two to sixteen months.
Government hasn’t been sincere with us and they want us to trust them.
In 2017, we signed a Memorandum of Terms of Settlement, MOTOS. In less than one month they stopped all payments.
After that, we signed a Memorandum of Action, MOA, and then an addendum to the MOA and yet they have not fulfilled any of the promises yet.
NARD has 10 demands. First, immediate Payment of all salaries owed to all house officers including March salaries (regardless of quota system) before the end of business on March 31, 2021.
Most of the house officers have not been paid. We still have 114 house officers being owed. However, a circular removing them from the scheme of service had been withdrawn. Many are not captured in IPPIS. We are also demanding immediate payment of all salary arrears including March salaries for our members in all federal,GIFMIS platforms, and state tertiary health institutions across the country.
None of these doctors who have worked for over four months has been paid. Our members in state teaching hospitals like Abia State University Teaching Hospital ,ABSUTH, Imo State University Teaching Hospital, IMSUTH, and University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, UNIMEDTH, are still owed 20, five and four months salaries.
Another one is an upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance.
The hazard allowances have remained five thousand naira for over 30 years. That is in addition to the payment of death in service insurance for all health workers who died as a result of COVID-19 infection or other infectious diseases in the country. This legitimate demand has been left unattended.
Payment of Salary shortfalls of 2014, 2015 and 2016 to our members in all federal institutions including state-owned institutions as earlier agreed with NARD. Nothing has been done in this regard.
There should be universal domestication/implementation of the 2017 MRTA by all federal government and state-owned training institutions to ensure proper funding of residency training in the country as stipulated by the Act.
Again, we demand the abolishment of the exorbitant bench fees being paid by our members on outside postings in all training institutions across the country with immediate effect. This is the only positive result from the conciliatory meeting with the Minister of Labour but the circular is not out to back it.
Also, the immediate payment of 2019, the balance of 2020 and 2021 medical residency training funds ,MRTF, to our members including those under state government employment.
We demand the immediate review of the Act regulating postgraduate medical training in Nigeria in line with international best practices to remove the unnecessary rigours in residency training in Nigeria. It is one of the factors attributed to brain drain in the health sector and nothing has been done here.
Finally, there should be the reintroduction of medical super salary structure and specialist allowance for all doctors as already approved for some other health workers.
How do you feel about the Minister of Labour and Employment decision not to meet with you?
Again, these issues are frustrating but we aren’t surprised. It’s the Ministry of Health that is our primary ministry and they are engaging us. So, we don’t bother ourselves with the statement by the Ministry of Labour.
How true is the statement that your association never informed the ministry that you were going on strike?
We have an organised institution. We have given the trade dispute notification for four weeks before the strike and it was acknowledged by them.
What is going to be the minimum response of government that may spur you into considering returning to work?
First, government should be able to pay the salary shortfall of 2014 to 2016.
The migration of our members from the GIFMIS payment platform to the IPPIS payment platform and the payment of salaries to these members should be looked into.
They should be able to pay the 2020 and 2021 payment platforms and withdrawal of the circular removing house officers from the scheme of service.
Let our members get this minimum, we will call off the strike. But if it is not done, I am afraid the strike will continue.
The Ministry claimed that most of your demands have to do with the state government. How true is this?
I just gave you four items above from our demands. I am sure they aren’t just state issues.
Are you not moved by the threat of no work, no pay, by the Minister of Labour?
They are only worsening brain drain and they can continue. What about our members who have worked for 2-6 months and are not paid?
How will you respond to the report that incessant doctors strike has continued to disrupt services in the hospitals, leading to the deaths of some Nigerians?
Simply put, only government sincerity will put to an end the numerous strikes.
Will you say the present administration has done well for health workers?
The indices are looking at you. You should be the judge of that. Is the President seeing a doctor in our local hospitals?
Your parent body, Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, has remained silent. Do you have its support? Every father supports his children. They have our back.
Nigeria is obviously in health emergency with cholera raging and Covid-19 not slowing down. Do you sincerely believe this is the right for doctors to go on strike?
We are not strike mongers; we have exhausted all the channels available: diplomacy,consultation. We are left with confrontation; thus we apologise to Nigerians. However we need government to be responsible and stick to their part of the bargain. We have endured since 2017; now we have been stretched to our breaking limit.