The Federal Government has stated that if the striking Resident Doctors return to their duties, the prosecution against them will be dropped.
Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment, told State House media about it after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa.
He asserted that the “No Work, No Pay” policy would be followed because it is a global norm that is also codified in Section 43 of the International Labour Organization’s Trade Dispute Act (ILO).
He stated his case. “Mr. President and I primarily discussed the state of the healthcare system and labor disputes. The resident doctors are continuing on strike, as you are aware; their strike is now in its 33rd day. Meanwhile, the government is doing everything it can to ensure that they return to work.
“Of the 12-point problems presented in their requests, we have addressed all of them; we have reached an agreement on all of them, including those that affect the Nigerian Medical and Dental Consultants Association and medical doctors in academic and teaching positions.
“So, we’ve taken care of everything; the only point of contention now is that they claim that Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act does not apply to them in the agreements and memorandums of action that the government should include.
“That provision states that if a worker refuses to work for his employer, the employer is free to withhold payment of emoluments, and the ILO principles on work and strike state that you can use that money to pay other workers you have engaged in that particular period of strike.
“So, while you have the right to strike, your employer has the right to refuse to pay you. More crucially, in other countries, before unions go on strike, they consult with their workers and raise strike funds, which the union will use to pay the workers who have gone on strike. They will also agree on the length of the strike.
“That’s why, in other countries, strikes seldom last more than three, four, or five days, and, more crucially, those working in critical services, such as medical services, where lives are at stake, don’t go on strike in the first place. They only picket and do such things when people’s lives are at stake.”
He emphasized that the government had previously enforced the “no work, no pay” approach to those unions who went on strike.
“So, this is where we are with them, and we are saying that that section will be void ab initio because it is against the law of the land, and we will not, as a government, yield to undue arm twisting and then sign that.
Other workers have lost pay as a result of strikes; the Joint Health Systems Union (JOHESU) lost income in 2018 when they embarked on a four-month strike, losing roughly two or three months pay when the no-work, no-pay policy was implemented.
No-work, no-pay was imposed on them by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). They were not paid for six months, and that was during COVID-19. So, administratively, we can handle things, but no one should arm-twist.
“I briefed Mr. President, and we decided that they should return to work, and if they do, we can go on to other things; we’ll drop the matter in court, and they’ll come back and finish the job.
“The Salaries, Incomes, and Wages Commission met with the Office of the Head of Service, and they agreed to jointly release a circular for Salaries, Incomes, and Wages to underline that House Officers and Youth Corps doctors are still on CONMES scales one and two, respectively. So, I believe we are on our way to completing the implementation.
“Also, the Ministry of Health has received the list of doctors who are allegedly to benefit from the Medica Residency Training Fund as a result of the monitoring meeting we held this morning. A total of about 8000 names were received, and the Ministry of Health is scrutinizing them. We have completed the first round of scrutiny, and they will now compare what they have with the names submitted by the Post-Graduate Medical College and the Chief Medical Directors.”
“The Association of Resident Doctors, in each of the tertiary centers, worked with the CMDs to produce those names,” he continued, “but now that the names are being verified, we discovered that about 2000 names shouldn’t be there because they don’t have what is known as Postgraduate Reference Numbers of National Postgraduate Medical College and (or) that of the West African Postgraduate Medical College.”
“So, that’s it, and that’s the only thing keeping the Residency Fund payment from going through because it’s already there. The Finance Minister has incurred expense, and it is now in the Accountant-office. General’s The Accountant-General will pay once they have verified the veracity of the documents they are submitting.
“We are doing that verification because we do not want what happened in 2020 to happen again; in 2020, the submitted names did not come through the appropriate source, which is the Postgraduate Medical College, and payment was affected; it was discovered that about 588 people who were not resident doctors benefited from that money, and they are now finding it difficult to make the full refund .
Some are refunding, but the account is not fully considered. The accountants will need to balance that account in order to pay the next batch of money in 2021.
“That’s what I told Mr. President, and we also talked about several things that aren’t for public consumption right now. We’re taking it in stride as the days pass, but we do talk about politics and the state of our party on a national level,” he added.