Federal Government Rejects Residents Doctors’ Strike

By Damilare Adeleye

Federal Government has berated the ongoing five-day warning strike of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), describing it as illegal.

The government made this known through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, while reacting to a letter from the NARD executive notifying him of the impending industrial action, which commenced yesterday midnight, May 16, 2023.

Ngige stated that on receiving the letter, he contacted the Minister of Health, who informed him that a meeting has been scheduled by his office with the resident doctors on Wednesday, May 17.

He, therefore, advised the doctors to avail themselves of the opportunity for social dialogue with their employer rather than embark on a warning strike, which is unknown to the law.

He said, “I will advise them to attend the meeting with the Minister of Health tomorrow. I will also advise them very strongly not to go on a five-day warning strike. There is nothing like a warning strike. A strike is a strike.

“If they want to take that risk, the options are there. It is their decision. They have the right to strike. You cannot deny them that right. But their employer has another right under Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act, to withhold their pay for those five days.

“So, if the NARD has strike funds to pay their members for those five days, no problem. The Health Minister will instruct the teaching hospitals to employ ad-hoc people for those five days, and they will use the money of the people who went on strike to pay the ad-hoc doctors. That is the ILO principles at decent work, especially for those rendering essential services. Lives should be protected. One of my sons is a resident doctor. I will advise him to go to work and sign the attendance register. The people seen at work are the ones to receive their pay. If you don’t work, there will be no pay.”

Speaking on the doctors’ demands, the Minister said the Federal Government lacks the powers to compel the states to domesticate the Medical Residency Training Fund since health is on the residual list, where the federal and state governments have the powers to legislate.

He said the job of the Federal Government is to make policy, and where the states disagree, they are at liberty to make their own policy.

On the immediate payment of the MRTF to their members, Ngige said it was appropriated in the 2023 budget but has not been released, as the 2022 budget was still running, adding that those in 2022 have all been paid.

The Health Minister also denied the claim by NARD that the Federal Government did not pay minimum wage consequential adjustment arrears to their members, saying that all workers in the Education and Health Sectors and even the defence agencies benefited from the adjustment.

He noted that the doctors cannot declare a nationwide strike because some states were owing their members, pointing out that the federal government cannot also dabble into the issue, being a state matter.

Similarly, he said the Federal Government, as the Executive arm of government, cannot intervene in the bill at the National Assembly to bond doctors for five years, as it is a private member’s bill.

Ngige said any intervention by the executive on the matter impinges on the autonomy and independence of the legislative arm of government.

He advised the doctors not to talk about a 200 percent pay rise, as it was not feasible