From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
The Federal Government and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) will continue their negotiation on the proposed new hazard allowance for doctors working in government owned hospitals next week.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige disclosed this Tuesday night after a protracted meeting of the Presidential Committee on Salaries with the leadership of NMA and its affiliates on the review of the hazard allowance in the health sector.
Ngige while calling the strike embarked by resident doctors as insensitive, recalled that they started this discussion with all the health workers in March but along the line, NMA disagreed on fundamental principles of negotiation with the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU).
He explained that the president of NMA requested that the discussion should be compartmentalized, which is allowed in Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
According to the minister, when people who are not doing the same work are negotiating an interest, if they decide to be separated, it can be done abinitio or midway, but that will put a lot of load on the negotiator.
He however appealed to the NMA and JOHESU to sheath their swords to enable the conclusion of discussion on the matter before the end of September.
Ngige said, “If we do so, it is to your own advantage because it has to be captured in the 2022 budget. Government will also look at its purse and if there is money, the President will sign and it will be a win-win situation for all of us.
“Last week we discussed it with JOHESU. We had a fruitful discussion. It is in that spirit that I am asking you that this should be fruitful, so that we can rest the issue of paying N5000 hazard allowance. In 2020, it was not you who informed the government. It was by our own volition that we invited both sides to the meeting where we handed over special COVID allowances to medical and dental workers and other allied health workers and we did it seamlessly. I don’t know whether it was because of the fear of COVID that you worked together.
“Today, the divide is there. Having read the altercation between you and JOHESU, which is in the media, we can’t believe that both of you are managing one patient. We are appealing to you, let us unite and see how we can navigate this thing. This is COVID-19 period. Stop this dichotomy between you and JOHESU. Both of you are managing one patient. It is team work. Nobody can do it alone.”
On the prolonged strike of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Ngige called out striking resident doctors, saying they are insensitive to the plight of Nigerians by embarking on strike at the middle of a pandemic.
He maintained that the Federal Government has been religiously implementing its own part of the Memorandum of understanding (MOU) it signed with the NMA, but rather than do their own part, the doctors have chosen to make the Government the weeping dog.
While pointing out that he had remained neutral as the conciliator, the Minister made it clear that he would no longer allow the idea of unions whipping the Government every time they come for negotiation, even when the Government was trying its utmost best and the other side liable for not doing their own part.
He explained that timeframes were fixed for actions to be taken, with those who are to take the actions spelt out.
On the issue of MEDSABAN and MDCAN raised by NMA, Ngige said they set up a committee, which had held its inaugural meeting.
He said even before their inaugural meeting, the Government had placed all of them back on CONMESS.
“I used my powers as a conciliator to say that there is a court judgment and that the government must obey. Court judgments are not what you pick and choose. No matter how bad a court judgment, affected persons must obey, whether you are government or private sector. A court has ordered that these people should be placed back on CONMESS, pending when it concludes this suit.
“Again, we have a presidential committee on salaries and wages. We put every wage on hold. There is a circular to that. So, we would have had a look at it before the amputation of people’s income in an emergency situation of COVID-19. Government is sensitive. I am sensitive to all these things.”
He insisted that the doctors were the people who are not sensitive because they embarked on strike during a pandemic whereas all the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the laws of the country say that in emergencies, strike is not allowed, not to talk of people on essential services.
“In emergency situations where the lives of a small population or whole and their safety would be affected, people do not go on strike. It is there in our laws. I will give it to you people to read. Doctors are supposed to be educated people, unless you want us to agree with what lawyers are saying that they are the learned people and every other person does not know anything. Doctors are educated people. If you are an educated people, learning is part of education. So, we must balance things.”
He noted that in the same MOU, NMA was asked to work towards the withdrawal of the case filed by some doctors at the industrial court and prevail on the resident doctors to call off their strike, but both have not been done.
He said they even suggested a larger body to discuss the MDCAN and MEDSABAN matter since it involves both the education and health sector and there must be a handshake between the two, for the matter to be effectively resolved.
“The same goes with the Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF). On this table, the budget office of the federation said we have N4.8 billion. Last time we paid N4.2 billion with skirmishes. We don’t want those skirmishes to reoccur. And they assured that their 4.8 billion is there and awaiting disbursement.
“We gave you an assignment with the CMDs and the Postgraduate Medical College to work and bring a genuine list. Postgraduate Medical has submitted a list of about 8000 persons to the Ministry of Health and they discovered about 2000 do not have registration numbers to say that they are registered doctors. So, the list was withdrawn and sent back to that college.
“The local ARD chapters are supposed to be helping to make that possible. The CMDs of teaching hospitals ought to supply names of residents there. Most importantly, Post graduate College should have a data base of your residents. Some of the names there are SMO 1, SMO 2, PMO 1 and PMO 2. Some have finished residency and gone out. Some are residents who have spent more than six years. According to the act, they are supposed to exit. So, if you gather 8000 of such people, why should the government pay you? It happened in 2020. The problem is still there. Those who said they will return the money are not returning. The number is there. The Accountant General opened the account. So, you now sit down here and castigate the government.
“Yesterday, I wanted to push them to pay those who have been verified. That is where we are but you won’t agree there is a fault from you. You come here and blame the government. ASUU comes here and does the same. Everybody is blaming the Buhari government. Some of us will not sit here and keep quiet while you are bad mouthing this government, especially when the Government is right.”
Making remarks, the Secretary General of NMA, Dr Philip Ekpe called for prompt attention to resolve the anarchy in the health sector, urging the Federal Ministry of Health to explore the window opened by the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari to see that all the negotiations were not in vain.
Others from the government side at the meeting were the Minister of State, Dr Olorunimbe Mamora, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mahmuda Mamman and his Labour counterpart, Peter Tarfa, the Chairman of National Salaries and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta and representatives of the Accountant General of the Federal and Director General of Budget Office.