The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has rejected the terms of settlement reached with the Federal Government last Thursday and declared a nationwide industrial action until the demands of its members are met.
The President of NARD, Dr. John Onyebueze, who announced this in Abuja yesterday after a meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the association, said the strike took off yesterday morning.
The doctor’s action portends more trouble for a government that is already grappling with Labour issues in critical sectors, including an ongoing strike action by university teachers. The current industrial unrest in the health sector is the second in the life of this government.
“The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) rising from its ordinary National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, which held on September 3, 2017 in Abuja, rejected the memorandum of terms of settlement from government on the items of her demand for strike, and resolved to proceed on the proposed national total and indefinite strike with effect from 8 a.m. Monday 4th September 2017,”he said.
Issues in dispute include salary shortfall of 2016 and January to May 2017; failure to rectify the salary shortfall from August 2017; failure to circularise house officers’ entry point; failure to correct the stagnation of promotion of members and properly place them on their appropriate grade level; failure to enroll and capture members on the Integrated Personnel Payment Information System (IPPIS); failure to budget, deduct and remit both the employer and employees’ contributions and NARD members’ pension to retirement savings account since 2013.
Though the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole and his Labour and Employment counterpart, Senator Chris Ngige, who met with the resident doctors till the wee hours of Saturday declared that the planned strike had been suspended, a visit to different government hospitals by The Guardian showed that the doctors kept away from work.
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) at Idi-Araba, doctors were seen attending to patients but the office of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) was locked as a result of the public holidays.
Ade Olumide, a parent to a patient at LUTH said he just met his son’s doctor, who was on his way to get medicine for his son.
Resident doctors at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos (NOHIL) had embarked on the strike, although consultant doctors were on ground to give medical attention to patients.
When The Guardian visited the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), the resident doctors were yet to commence strike.
The President, Association of Resident Doctors in LASUTH, Dr. Adeola Badmus said the doctors would commence strike as directed by NARD, but would have to assemble their colleagues to choose a date for the commencement of the industrial action.
Though there were queues at different sections in LASUTH, the patients at the Emergency Unit said doctors were attending to them.
Meanwhile, the immediate past Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Clement Iloh, has blamed the incessant strike in the health sector on indiscriminate issuance of circulars and rivalry among the professionals.
His words: “There should be appointed authorities to issue circulars so that those circulars can be obeyed and implemented. But everybody in the Ministry of Health, even directors of human resources, directors of hospitals, chief medical directors and all sorts of people issue circulars and letters depending on their own interpretation of situations. This is one of the things that cause a lot of disorganisation and confusion.”
On the challenges of the health sector, Iloh mentioned, among others, flagrant misinterpretation of professional skipping of some levels granted some sets of civil servants.
“The issue of skipping has become so misinterpreted and government must now take a very solid decision on it. Skipping should be based on promotion, but now everyone is skipping. We now have a situation where civil servants on level 17 skip to level 19; those on level one now skip to level three. Something that was meant for a special cadre is now for all sorts of people. Therefore, there is the urgent need for government to streamline circulars in the ministry of health for them to have focus.”
While stating that the role of the Ministry of Labour and Employment is undoubtedly that of bringing all stakeholders to a roundtable for amicable settlement of disputes, he said that it was the responsibility of negotiators to consider affordability, ability and sustainability when negotiating.
“It is unfortunate that we have situations where people agree on terms that are not implementable to achieve peace of the graveyard,” he said.
Iloh stressed the need for the Federal Government to strengthen the monitoring capacity of the Ministry of Labour and Employment to be able to raise the flag once there is a threat to industrial peace in strike-prone sector.
“The Ministry of Labour and Employment has a duty to monitor the implementation of agreements. It is very important for it to be able to do so. The ministry, within its ability and resources available, is monitoring the implementation of agreements but it is not as effective as it should be. The monitoring unit of the ministry in the Trade Union Industrial Relation (TUSIR) department should be strengthened so that there will be early signals when there is a threat to industrial peace. That is why the ministry established resident offices in all the sectors that have high propensity for strike so that those early signals can be used to monitor if managements are not implementing contents of agreements.”
Iloh said the Federal Government should ensure that doctors do not over-stay their welcome as resident doctors beyond the statutory six years tenure.
He alleged that some resident doctors foment industrial trouble when examination draws closer, while some have become professional unionists.
“Doctors are supposed to do their residency programmes for six years, but we now have doctors that have been on the programme for more than 15 years. Such doctors have become professional trade unionists that foment trouble whenever examinations are approaching. These are the doctors that continually fail examinations. Government should insist that no doctor is a resident doctor for more than six years which the law allows.”