Despite meeting with a federal government delegation to resolve pending issues, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) commenced an indefinite strike on Thursday.
“We commence strike 8 a.m. today while we are still trying to evaluate the federal government’s offer,” the president of the association, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday morning.
Mr Okhuaihesuyi said the resolution was reached after NARD’s extraordinary National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held on Saturday.
He said the ultimatum given to the federal government to meet the association’s earlier demands will expire on March 31, with no significant achievement.
Resident doctors, who are undergoing training to become consultants, make up a large percentage of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
The doctors are demanding, amongst other things, payment of all salaries arrears, review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers, and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 allowance especially in state-owned tertiary Institutions.
“Immediate payment of all salary arrears including March salaries for our members in all Federal and State Tertiary Health Institutions across the country especially ASUTH, IMSUTH and UNIMEDTH,” the president said.
“Upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance especially in State owned-tertiary Institutions.
“Payment of death in service insurance for all health workers who died as a result of COVID-19 infection or other infectious diseases in the country.”
The doctors are also demanding the “implementation of September 2017 Memorandum of Terms of Settlement between NARD and the government in order to bring lasting peace to the health sector and curb the ongoing ugly trend of brain drain from the health sector.”
Despite risks associated with their profession, there have been numerous complaints of poor remuneration and welfare of health workers in Nigeria.
On Wednesday, a government delegation led by labour minister Chris Ngige met with the doctors as part of efforts to avert the strike.
Speaking before the meeting went into a closed session, Mr Ngige appealed to the aggrieved doctors to consider the damage their withdrawal of services would cause the country’s health system already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the majority of the welfare issues under contention were almost resolved even before the letter of complaint and notification of planned strike action was delivered to the ministry.
According to him, the government had started discussions on hazard allowance for health workers in the country.
He noted that as a conciliator, he has communicated the complaints of the doctors to the relevant ministries.
But Mr Okhuaihesuyi told PREMIUM TIMES that the federal government is yet to fulfil majority of the association’s demands.
He said none of his association’s members has benefited from the life insurance scheme put in place by the federal government after considering the danger health workers are exposed to during the pandemic.
“The life insurance promised, none of our members have received it yet and we have lost seven resident doctors so far and human lives should not be taken as insignificant,” Mr Okhuaihesuyi said.
According to the NARD president, majority of the doctors have not been paid in months.
Government Hopeful Of Averting Strike
Meanwhile, Mr Ngige in a statement released early Thursday morning, said a Memorandum of Action (MOA) has been signed with the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).
He said this is geared towards averting the planned nationwide strike of the resident doctors.
“Everybody will be working, so hopefully by tomorrow, you will experience the payment as agreed here for the second category of doctors (an overflow of the MDCN quota),” Mr Ngige said.
“So, by the time the chairman of the CMDs comes up with his final list and harmonise it with MDCN, we won’t have issue anymore over this payment or whether some doctors have not been paid.”
He explained that timelines have been put on other issues raised by the doctors.
“And with this MOA, we hope you get to your members to let them understand better that government has moved proactively to address most of the issues ahead of your coming,” he said.
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