The federal government says negotiations are ongoing with stakeholders over the five-day warning strike embarked upon by members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) on Wednesday. However, the NARD president says his association has not been contacted since the strike began early Wednesday.
Fielding questions from journalists in Abuja on Wednesday, the Director of Public Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Morenike Alex-Okoh, said the strike was of concern for the government.
“The situation with the doctors’ strike is of concern to government and the negotiations have been ongoing.
“We will continue under the circumstances, so, I cannot give you any conclusive response now.
“However, government, the leadership of the ministry and relevant stakeholders are meeting to resolve the situation as quickly as possible,’’ she said.
NARD served notice on the federal government on Tuesday warning that it could not guarantee further industrial harmony should government fail to address the issues raised.
NARD’s letter entitled: “Notice of Strike Action’’ was signed jointly by its National President, Innocent Orji and Secretary-General, Chikezie Kelechi.
They stated that NARD had issued a two-week ultimatum to the federal government to resolve issues as contained in the ultimatum before its expiration on 13 May.
Tuesday’s letter read in part: “regrettably the issues have remained unresolved despite several attempts by NARD to get government to resolve them.
“Rising from her Extra-Ordinary Meeting on Monday, May 15, NARD’s National Executive Council resolved to embark on a five-day warning strike beginning on May 17.’’
The doctors are demanding an immediate increment in the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure to the tune of 200 per cent of current gross salaries of doctors.
NARD is also demanding the immediate withdrawal of the Bill in parliament seeking to compel medical and dental graduates to serve compulsorily in Nigeria for five years before getting full licences to practise.
It also wants immediate domestication of the Medical Residency Training Act and a review of Hazard Allowance by state governments.
Meanwhile, Chris Ngige, minister of Labour and Employment had on Tuesday, relayed the federal government’s warning to the association to shelve the strike.
He issued the warning shortly after receiving a letter of notification from the NARD executive on the planned strike.
In a statement signed by Olajide Oshundun, director, Press and Public Relations in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr Ngige said the planned strike was illegal.
“There is nothing like warning strike. A strike is a strike. If they want to take that risk, the options are there. They have the right to strike. You cannot deny them that right.
“Their employer has another right under Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, however, to withhold their pay for those five days.
“If the NARD has strike funds to pay its members for those five days, no problem.
“The health minister will instruct teaching hospitals to employ ad-hoc people for those five days and use the money of the people who went on strike to pay the ad-hoc doctors,’’ Mr Ngige said.
Mr Ngige also said in the statement that upon receipt of NARD’s letter, he contacted the Minister of Health, who told him that a meeting had been scheduled with the resident doctors for Wednesday.
He advised the doctors to avail themselves of the opportunity to dialogue with their employers, rather than embarking on a warning strike, which, he said, is unknown to the law.
No negotiation ongoing
Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the President of NARD, Mr Orji, said that members were still awaiting the federal government’s call for negotiations.
“I am still in my hotel room now and I have not received any call to come to the table to discuss the strike.
“We also heard that government is planning a `no work, no pay’ strategy, but our position is that it should resolve issues raised because that is the only way to avoid escalation.
“Issuing threats will definitely worsen the problem. If no work no pay is implemented, our members will determine how we will handle it.
“Going by that route will escalate the problem because it means that government is not ready to address the issues we have raised and will rather give punitive measures.
“Our members will decide and give us further directives, but no one should blame us if they decide to escalate the strike,’’ he said.
A visit to Asokoro District Hospital, Abuja, showed doctors were attending to patients.
Chidi Nnabuchi, former Head of Clinical Services said the hospital would not shut down but would operate based on available capacity.
He said emergency care would be offered where necessary, but could not ascertain if patients would be placed on admission. The number of out-patients seeking attention would also be reduced.
He explained that this would be so because only medical consultants, NYSC and in-house doctors would be attending to patients.
“We have few doctors that are corps members; they are not part of the strike. Some others are on local employment.
“They are on ground to handle emergencies and treat patients in the wards.
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