The minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, has sought the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to meet the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association, Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), Association of Medical Doctors in the Academics and the striking National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), among other concerned parties, in a bid to resolve the lingering labour conflicts in the nation’s health sector.
The minister, who disclosed this on Thursday, shortly after meeting with the president, said the meeting is scheduled to hold 2 p.m. on Friday.
Similar meetings in the past ended in stalemates after the doctors accused the government of insincerity.
However, the new move is coming after failed attempts to seek a court order to compel the striking members of NARD back to work after all entreaties failed.
The labour ministry, on behalf of the federal government, had earlier approached the National Industrial Court at the Federal Capital Territory to seek an order declaring the strike illegal. But following the failure of the parties involved in the matter to appear before the court, hearing on the matter was adjourned till September 15.
However, in another surprising move, a non-governmental organisation, Rights for All International, also approached the same court with an ex parte application to restrain the striking doctors from continuing the industrial action.
PREMIUM TIMES, however, reported on Thursday that John Targema, the presiding judge in the matter, rejected the application, saying issuing “a restraining order” against the doctors to stop the strike without hearing them would be in breach of their right to fair hearing.
Addressing the media at the state house on Thursday, the minister said his meeting with Mr Buhari was to brief the latter on the efforts made so far to address the lingering crisis.
He said; “The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), came over on the prompting of the Medical Elders’ Council Forum; that is, experienced senior doctors, former government officials who are doctors, and we started dialogue two days ago.
“So, we are continuing the dialogue tomorrow (Friday). At least, they are expected to bring to the discussion, the sub associations of NMA, including the resident doctors, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, who also threatened strike over some more issues… So, we have agreed to meet tomorrow at 2 p.m.”
Mr Ngige said the president also directed him to liaise with his chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari, so that other relevant government officials can be part of the meeting.
“So I have just finished briefing the president on the situation as we presently have it on ground. And he has given his blessing for us to proceed. He also gave me permission to liaise with the Chief of Staff so that some government agencies; Federal Ministry of Health, Budget Office of the Federation, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Accountant General, National Salaries Wages and Incomes Commission, Office of Head of Service, and all the government agencies involved or that have anything to do with some of the complaints of these three groups of medical doctors should come on board tomorrow so that we can sort the issues out. That is what I came for primarily,” the minister said.
‘No work, no pay rule’ stands
Mr Ngige, however, said the new efforts would not stop the government from implementing the ‘no work, no pay rule,” saying it is about law and not sentiments.
He said; “I invoked Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, 2004 on withdrawal of wages during strike periods, which, in common parlance here, is called the principle of no work no pay. It is not the law of Ngige, or the law of Buhari.
“You all know that this is COVID-19 period. And we were expecting Delta variant upsurge with a third wave. And suddenly, the resident doctors downed their tools, claiming that they were resuming a suspended strike. I then told them that there was nothing like a suspended strike, and that a strike is a strike.”
He said the rule is not new to the country, saying such was applied against members of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) when they went on strike.
Dialogue with NGF
Meanwhile, the minister has said he was prepared to meet the Nigerian governors as part of efforts towards addressing some of the demands of the striking doctors, which he noted are within the purview of some concerned state governments.
Mr Ngige, also a former governor and a medical doctor by profession, said he was prepared to meet the governors through their body, Nigeria Governors’ Forum. The forum is currently chaired by the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi.
NARD to attend meeting
Meanwhile, the leadership of the striking doctors has said it would attend the meeting but said it was not invited to the meeting by the minister but by NMA.
The union’s President, Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on Friday on the phone, said his team would be at the meeting.
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