Nigerian resident doctors last week Thursday began a nationwide strike after an ultimatum they served the government expired without the latter meeting their demands. A reconciliatory meeting called by labour and employment minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, Wednesday did not reach an agreement.
The doctors, under the auspices of Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), are demanding “immediate payment of all salaries”, including March salary, owed to all house officers, before March 31.They also want an “immediate payment of all salary arrears,” including March, for members in all Federal (GIFMIS platform) and State Tertiary Health Institutions, especially ASUTH, IMSUTH, and UNIMEDTH.
NARD is seeking an upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance, especially in state-owned-tertiary institutions. It calls for the abolition of “the exorbitant bench fee” paid by members on outside postings in all training institutions across the country “with immediate effect.” According to the doctors, salary shortfalls of 2014, 2015, and 2016 should be paid to their members in all federal institutions, including state-owned institutions as earlier agreed with the government. They are demanding the payment of death in service insurance for health workers who died as a result of COVID-19 infection or other infectious diseases. in the country.
Other demands made at the meeting of the NARD’s national executive council Saturday last week at the National Hospital, Abuja, include: “universal domestication/implementation of the 2017 MRTA by all Federal Government and State-owned Training Institutions to ensure proper funding of Residency Training; immediate payment of the balance of 2020 and 2021 Medical Residency Training Funds (MRTF) to our members including those under state government employ; mmediate implementation of September 2017 Memorandum of Terms of Settlement (MOTOS) between NARD and the Federal Government of Nigeria in order to bring lasting peace to the health sector and curb the ongoing ugly trend of brain drain from the health sector; immediate review of the Act regulating Postgraduate Medical Training in Nigeria in line with International Best Practices to remove the unnecessary rigors in Residency Training in Nigeria, one of the factors attributed to brain drain in the health sector; immediate commencement of employment into all Government-owned hospitals to improve service delivery to Nigerians, enhance Residency Training, and curb the attendant brain drain in the health sector.”
The doctors demand the reintroduction of medical super salary structure and specialist allowance for all doctors as already approved for other health workers. This will go a long way in ensuring peace in the health sector. They also want NEC the Registrar of MDCN sacked “for failure to demonstrate competence in the handling of the central placement of house officers.” According to them, his removal “will give room for smooth implementation of the central placement of house officers without further delay.”
NARD President, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said after the meeting with labour minister that the union was used to the government’s proposal to discuss its demands. He stressed the need for the government to take more responsibility, saying that the decision to go on strike was for the benefit of all healthcare workers in the country. “We had a meeting with the Minister of Labour; we insist that the implementation of what we wrote on the strike notice should be initiated immediately. We are not just doing this for resident doctors, we are doing this for all health workers … the government needs to be more responsible,” the NARD president stated.
We have no problem with the demands of NARD. Workers are entitled to their wages if they have earned them through hard work. They also deserve the right tools and environment to be productive. However, the timing of the strike isn’t just right. Firstly, the nation is still gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic. As doctors, they are front line workers. Withdrawing their services at this time will undo what success has been made in the fight against the pandemic. Secondly, it is disrespectful of the office of the President of the nation to have called the strike when he is out of the country on medical grounds. Thirdly, the long list of things the doctors want done “immediately” is simply unrealistic. Even if an agreement were reached today, its implementation could not be immediate, what with the massive paper work that has to be done. Fourthly, it is not as if the government has been unresponsive. No. The labour minister has asked for more time to talk the matter over. The least the union can do is call off the strike and go back to the negotiation table.