THE Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, Tuesday blasted the Director-General of Progressives Governors Forum, PGF, Salihu Moh Lukman, over what he termed, expression of grave ignorance and crass emptiness on the ongoing doctors’ strike on the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD.
Ngige who expressed disappointment with the PGF DG’s utterances, described the statement credited to Lukman in the media as “nauseating, malicious and nonsensical.”
Recall that Lukman had in his statement claimed that the lethargic responses of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige and his Health counterpart, Dr Osagie Enahire, culminated in the strikes in the Health Sector and consequent loss of lives.
But, reacting in a statement by his media office signed by Emmanuel Nzomiwu, Ngige said the PGF DG must have spoken either out of ignorance or malicious intent to smear the two respected members of the Federal cabinet 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.
According to the statement, 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.
Dr Ngige apart from his medical training as a medical doctor did Postgraduate training in Health System and Hospital Administration and while at the Directorate Cadre position, manned the medical training in the Federal Ministry of Health.
Ngige noted there was no strike notice from NARD under the Trade Disputes Act as there was nothing like a resumption of a suspended strike. Hence 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. The ILO principles at work further support this.
“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.
Ngige maintained that as essential workers, the resident doctors are not expected to go on strike without giving at least 15 days notice to the Minister.
“Ab initio, on 31st of January, 2021 NARD issued a notice of strike detailing their demands and were invited by the Minister with the first meeting held in February. Further meetings were held in which their employers, the Ministry of Health was invited.
These meetings culminated in the signing of a Memorandum of Action on the 31st of March 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, the 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.
“Their Residency Training Fund was paid and the issue of House officers was addressed because to the satisfaction of NARD. The recruitment of house officers after they is now being handled online by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, MDCN, to ensure a level playing field for all applicant doctors.
“As of today, over N3 billion has been released for Residency Training Fund. They submitted names and payment started. NARD however claim 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, Ngige 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 to include internship doctors who may decide not to practice at the end of their training.
He said “pharmacists, nurses and physiotherapists are equally doing the internship. In spite, there is a salary wage structure that has captured that entry point for doctors; MSS 1 . Therefore nothing has gone off the monies due to them.
“The Commissioners for Health from the 36 states and FCT in their council on the establishment, asked their Chairperson, the Head of Service of the Federation for a circular that all the interns in the civil service should be removed from the scheme of service for that one year.
This certainly cannot be the grievance of doctors as it did not touch their earnings.
“Immediately the doctors raised alarm on the circular, the Minister contacted the Head of Service of the Federation who confirmed that nothing was lost by the doctors as a result of the circular, the matter having been discussed with the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
“Even when they raised its negative implication in the Lagos State service package for doctors, it adds to nothing as it is completely a state matter.
“Similarly, insurance for medical doctors by the Federal Government has been in place in 2020 and has been renewed for the year 2021 with over N9 billion as a premium. Evidence was tendered at the last meeting on July 22 by the Office of Head of Service of the Federation to show that payment has started. The Federal Government is ready but NARD has not supplied the list of these 19 dead doctors said to have been omitted.
“On the issue of doctors on GFMIS yet to be paid between seven to eight months salaries, the matter are already being handled but not yet perfected while a standing committee has been constituted for that.
“Let’s put on record that after the meeting on July 22, the same NARD leadership showered thanks and praises on Ngige and promised to go and report back to their members, only to turn around and declare another indefinite strike. The issue of migration of NARD members to IPPIS platform would be addressed by the committee.
“We have to note also that the claim by NARD that the Medical Residency Training fund was yet to be paid for 2020 and 2021 is false. The 2020 was paid and even in payment of 2020, the resident doctors injected names of people who are not qualified to receive the money.
There were their members who had finished and left that were also paid because they supplied the names. Some of their members did not get because those who are not fit and proper persons to earn the money, had taken away this money. The resident doctors pledged to get these people to refund the money.
The 2021 is captured in service-wide votes in the 2021 supplementary budget under service wide votes.
“Again, it is workers who are drawing back the meeting on the issue of hazard allowance as the Federal Government had long ago earmarked N37.5 billion for it.
“The Minister of Labour is alive to his responsibilities. He deserves commendation rather than vilification, for making sure that industrial disputes do not escalate to the point of going to either the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) or the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN).
We will not go to IAP or NICN and the dispute only moves up to the IAP and NICN when conciliation failed at the level Ministry. Importantly, all disputes that have been apprehended by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment since 2015 have been effectively and satisfactorily conciliated, hence no need to send upstairs but the statistics at the IAP and NICN will show that the private sector, especially oil and gas unions have been referred to the Arbitration Panel and industrial Court.
Instead of Lukman praising the successes of a Minister of APC, his jaundiced eyes didn’t permit him. On record, the Ministry under Ngige has to date conciliated over 1680 disputes, leaving little or nothing for IAP and NICN.
“Apart from signing a Memorandum of Understanding in the case of Kaduna State, everything brought by NLC against the Kaduna State Government was earlier forwarded to Governor El-Rufai. Our information is that the DG of PGF was a former employee of Kaduna State Government before he took up his current position.
Why did he not thank Ngige for intervening in the matter as far back as 2017 when teachers were sacked. Ngige stopped ILO from suspending Nigeria because NLC reported Kaduna and Kogi State Governments. Remember that Kaduna Government used the police against labour. Lukman’s claim is quite preposterous because, in 2017, the Minister apprehended the strike and summoned both the NLC and Kaduna State Government to a series of meetings, one of which was attended by the Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai.