The Federal Government has warned members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to shelve their planned five-day warning strike.
Sen. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, gave the warning on Tuesday in Abuja, shortly after receiving a letter of notification from the NARD executive on the planned strike.
Ngige said this in a statement signed by Mr Olajide Oshundun, Director, Press and Public Relations in the ministry, describing the planned strike as illegal.
The impending industrial action is billed to begin by midnight of May 16.
Ngige, who was reacting to the letter delivered to his office at about 5pm same day, said he contacted the Minister of Health, who informed him that a meeting had been scheduled with the resident doctors on Wednesday.
He therefore advised the doctors to avail themselves of the opportunity for social dialogue with their employer, rather than embark on a warning strike, which is unknown to the law.
According to him, “I will advise them to attend the meeting with the Minister of Health tomorrow. I will also advise them very strongly not to go on a five-day warning strike.
“There is nothing like a warning strike. A strike is a strike. If they want to take that risk, the options are there. It is their decision. They have the right to strike. You cannot deny them that right.
“But their employer has another right under Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, to withhold their pay for those five days. So, if the NARD has strike funds to pay their members for those five days, no problem.
“The Health Minister will instruct the teaching hospitals to employ adhoc people for those five days and they will use the money of the people who went on strike to pay the adhoc doctors.
“That is the ILO principles at decent work, especially for those rendering essential services. Lives should be protected. One of my sons is a resident doctor, I will advise him to go to work and sign the attendance register.”
He added that the people seen at work were the ones to receive their pay.
“If you don’t work, there will be no pay,” he vowed.
On the five demands of the doctors, Ngige said the Federal Government lacked the powers to compel the states to domesticate the Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF).
He added that health is in the residual list, where both the federal and state governments have the powers to legislate.
The minister also stated that the job of the Federal Government was to make policy and where the states disagree, they were at liberty to make their own policy.
He noted that the Federal Government cannot bully the states into domesticating the MRTF if they do not want to.
Regarding the issue of immediate payment of the MRTF to their members, he said it was appropriated in the 2023 budget, but has not been released, as the 2022 budget was still running, adding that those in 2022 have all been paid.
Ngige denied the claim by NARD that the Federal Government did not pay minimum wage consequential adjustment arrears to their members.
He added that all workers in the Education and Health Sectors, and even the defense agencies, benefited from the adjustment.
He noted that the doctors cannot declare nationwide strike because some states were owing their members, pointing out that the federal government cannot also dabble into the issue, being a state matter.
Ngige also said the Federal Government, as the Executive arm of government, cannot intervene in the bill at the National Assembly to bond doctors for five years, as it is a private member’s bill.
According to him, any intervention by the executive on the matter impinges on the autonomy and independence of the legislative arm of government.
Ngige noted that the bill had passed through first and second reading, adding that he was sure it would be shut down at the public hearing, since the law prohibits forced labour.
He advised the doctors not to talk about a 200 per cent pay rise, as it was not feasible.
“Besides all the government has done for doctors and other workers in the health sector, such as upward review of hazard allowances, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) was already negotiating with the Federal Ministry of Health, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission and the Presidential Committee on Salaries on pay rise for doctors.
“It is incongruous for student doctors to embark on strike when consultants training them were already negotiating with the Federal Government,” he said.