Following the breakdown of conciliation in the industrial dispute between the Federal Government and resident doctors, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has handed over the dispute between the two to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for adjudication.
The striking Doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors, NARD, had declared industrial dispute with the federal government and proceeded on indefinite strike August 2 over the inability of the latter to meet their demands.
Efforts by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige, who is the Conciliator-in-Chief of the Federal Government to broker truce between resident doctors and the government had not yielded any positive results as the doctors have maintained their grounds that until their demands were met, they would not call off the strike.
Saturday Vanguard reliably gathered that Ngige on Thursday formally handed over the trade dispute between government NARD to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for adjudication.
A source close to the Ministry of Health told Saturday Vanguard that copy of the transmission to the Industrial Court was sent to NARD and the Federal Ministry of Health representing the Federal Government.
It will be recalled that the Minister had given the NARD leadership till the end of work on Wednesday, 11th August, 2021, to convene a virtual meeting of its National Executive Committee to brief its members on the efforts of government with a view to calling off its strike.
The source at the Health Ministry said, “Part of the instrument signed August 11, 2021 by the Minister reads, “whereas trade dispute has arisen and now exists between the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Federal Ministry of health / Federal Government and whereas efforts to promote settlement through conciliation were on-going but had now failed.
“And considering the facts that members of NARD who are classified as Essential Services workers/employees had embarked on strike on Monday, August 2, 2021 over the issues under conciliation, contrary to the provisions of Section 18 of the Trade Disputes Act CAP T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004, after attending a Conciliation and Agreement Review meeting on July 22, 2021 and further considering that the Federal Ministry of Health claim to have and produced evidence to having met most of their demands based on the various Memorandum of Action reached during past conciliations especially that of July 22, 2021.
“Now therefore, I, Senator Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige OON, MD the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment in exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 17 of the Trades Disputes Act, CAP T8 laws of the Federation of Nigeria, hereby refer the matter for consideration, and the issues in dispute to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria for adjudication.”
Saturday Vanguard further gathered that Senator Ngige on Thursday attended the meeting of Medical Elders Forum, comprising practising and retired senior medical practitioners, doctors who have served or are serving in top level political offices.
The source that spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “Some of those in attendance included the Chairman of Senate Committee on Health Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, Chairman House committee on Health, Tanko Sununu, all past Presidents of NMA and NARD, His Highness, Dr. Haliru Yahaya, Emir of Shonga, former chairman Seante Committee on Health, Senator Tejuosho, President of NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, former Minister of Health , Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, Chairman and Registrar of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) Prof. Tajudeen Sanusi among others.”
The source claimed that the Minister of Labour and Employment” painstakingly explained every item on the Resident Doctors demands, upon which they embarked on strike.
“For instance, the Minister informed the forum that it was the 36 State Commissioners for Health and the FCT who raised a joint memo to the National Council on Establishment for the abolition of internship period in the scheme of service for health professionals and further underlined the fact that Medical House Officers have never enjoyed the one year of internship or that of the NYSC as part of their period of service in the overall 35 years period of service.
“He added that CONMESS wage structure captures all doctors from CONMESS 1 for House Officers to CONMESS for the highest consultant.”
Ngige was also said to have stated that the circular from the Office of the Head Of Service of the Federation, emanating from the last National Economic Council meeting in Lagos, abolishing one year of internship and NYSC as part of scheme of service for health professionals, does not affect medical doctors because the housemanship of medical doctors is already captured in the wage structure of CONMESS.
“He also told the forum that the domestication of Medical Residency Training Fund (MRTF) in the states falls squarely on the shoulders of Governors and State Houses of Assembly for resident doctors in state specialists hospitals because health is on concurrent list of the constitution.
“Besides the Federal Government already has the Medical Residency Training Act of 2018 for federal residents, arguing further that house officers and general medical officers by strict job description, are not members of NARD which is an exclusive body for doctors on residency training.
“Hence this group should only be catered for by the Nigerian Medical Association and should not have downed tools.
“He maintained that the Federal Government Medical Residency Training Fund for 2021 was captured under the service wide vote in the 2021 supplementary budget which was signed by the President on the eve of his departure to the United Kingdom and has therefore become a Financial Act.
“The Minister noted that the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and Planning is already moving funds into various compartments such as Covid-19 vaccines and other medical subheads and gave assurance that requests from medical colleges will be sorted out within the next seven working days, with funds moved to the accounts of resident doctors and should not have been an item for the strike .
“At the meeting also the Registrar of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, assured the medical elders that up to July 31, 2021 he was up to date in his payment of House Officers who have been enrolled through him to the Accountant General of the Federation.
“On IPPIS platform, he said the 114 House officers claimed by NARD out of about 3000 House officers is not even up to two percent and that investigation is ongoing to detect why they have not been paid.”
A passionate appeal was said to have been made to medical consultants who double as teachers in the medical colleges as well as doctors in the hospitals, and who were moved from Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) to Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS).
A firm promise was said to have been made that the matter was being handled administratively and would be resolved in a short while.
Ngige, the source added pleaded with the consultants as elders not to carryout strike as threatened, insisting that strikes demean the prestige of doctors in the country.
The source said, “Reflecting on the trajectory of strikes by medical doctors, Ngige was said to have drawn from his experience as medical doctor and years of public service across tiers and arms of government, and pointedly blamed the President of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) Professor Innocent Ujah for failing to give the right leadership to the junior doctors in NARD, hence the incessant strikes.
“He accused him of failure of leadership as he abandoned standing instruction given to both the NMA and NARD leadership that NMA must lead in any conciliation meeting. Ngige who was commended by the elders for his forthrightness, proved to the forum that Prof. Uja has never attended any of the conciliation meeting in his ministry even under invitation but chose to send the secretary general.”
He was said to have further reiterated his earlier position that the job of the NMA president is a full time job that has necessitated people in the public services taking sabbatical leave to hold such an office.
The Minister was said to have therefore argued that if Uja’s office as the Vice Chancellor of Federal Medical University in Utukpo, Benue State, was an encumbrance on his position as the NMA President, he should resign, instead of playing Nero while Rome burns.