Fed Govt moves to stop collapse of health sector

Fearing a collapse of the health sector with the strike notice served by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), the government at the weekend began moves to restore order.

The JOHESU 15-day notice, served on September 12, followed last week’s 21-day strike notice by the Nigeria Medical Association.

Resident doctors, under the aegis of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), have been on strike since August 2.

They have been undeterred by the suit filed by the Federal Government at the National Industrial Court and the invocation of the “no-work-no-pay” rule.

Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige rushed to Aso Villa for consultation with President Muhammadu Buhari. He gave a window of opportunity for resident doctors to end the strike.

Ngige told reporters at the Aso Villa that the government was ready to withdraw the suit if the doctors agreed to call off the strike.

He told journalists that he would meet with JOHESU tomorrow to stave off their planned strike.

But the resident doctors rejected the minister’s overtures and vowed to continue.

Ngige said: “I am surprised that they are issuing that threat on the issues that are undergoing reconciliation already and which we have almost finished. They are still putting them as part of new issues

“We have alerted them that they are coming for a meeting on Tuesday (tomorrow).

“They already have our letter of invitation so I am surprised that they are also issuing a threat.

“I got their letter on Friday. We will resolve that when we meet on Tuesday.”

JOHESU is demanding the adjustment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHES), payment of all withheld salaries, review of the implementation of COVID-19 special inducement and hazard allowance, and increase in the retirement age from 60 to 65 for health workers and 70 for consultants.

NARD President Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi yesterday insisted that the strike would not be called off until the Federal Government met the content of the MOU it signed over 120 days ago.

Okhuaihesuyi told journalists that it was unfortunate that the government resorted to the court instead of finding a creative way to address NARD’s demands.

He said the government could go ahead and punish the resident doctors for not returning to work if it so desired. “They took us to court, so they are the ones to withdraw the case. Which one is easier? Honouring an MOU or giving excuses? Those doctors that have not been paid, have they paid them now? Those that are working in the Ministry should be queried for not doing their own work.

“They are instead giving excuses and running to feed the President with lies.

“They said they have done everything when they have done nothing.

“If they had done what they wrote down over 120 days ago, then we do not need to go on this strike.

Also yesterday, the NMA advised the government to go back to the negotiating table instead of being on the offensive.

Stressing the need to quickly resolve all the contentious issues in the sector, it warned that the health sector risked a collapse. NMA Secretary-General Dr Ekpe Phillips, said.

“The government has to have a holistic approach to solve each and everyone’s problems, so that our people can enjoy health.

“The situation is not good for the masses who are helpless now and cannot do anything.

“It is only the government that can help them by making sure that all these issues are resolved as fast as possible. Ngige said the government would not succumb to arm-twisting by the striking doctors.

The minister, who insisted that existing codes, both locally and internationally must be honoured, including the ‘no-work, no-pay’ provision, added that he was at the Presidential Villa to discuss the state of the health sector with President Buhari.

He said: “As you well know, the resident doctors are still on strike, their strike has now entered the 33rd day today(yesterday).

“Meanwhile, the government is doing everything possible to make sure they get is doing everything possible to make sure they get back to work.

“Out of their 12-point issues raised in their demands, we have done all, we have come to agreements on all, including those that even affect the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria and medical doctors who are in academics and teaching universities

“So, we have handled all, the only point of disagreement now is that they said that the agreements and the memorandum of action, the government should inserts, include that Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act will not apply to them.”

He pointed out that the government had before now applied the ‘no work, no pay’ rule on some unions that embarked on strike.

Ngige added: “As a government, succumb to undue arm twisting and then go and sign that. Other workers have lost their pay during strikes; JOHESU lost their pay in 2018 when they went on four months strike, they lost about two or three months pay when the no-work, no-pay was invoked.

“I briefed Mr. President and we’ve agreed that they should come back to work and if they do, we can take other things from there; we’ll drop the case in court and then they will come back and get things done.

“We have done the first round of scrutinisation and they will now compare what they have with the Post-Graduate Medical College and the Chief Medical Directors who submitted their names.

“We discovered that about 2,000 names shouldn’t be there because they don’t have what is called Postgraduate Reference Numbers of National Postgraduate Medical College and (or) that of the West African Postgraduate Medical College.

“This is it and that is the only thing holding back the Residency Fund payment because it is there already. Once they verify the authenticity of those they are submitting, the Accountant-General will pay.”

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