FG drags striking resident doctors to industrial court

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Adelani Adepegba, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole and Solomon 

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has formally referred the trade dispute between the Federal Government and the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors to the National Industrial Court for arbitration.

It was gathered that NARD and the Federal Ministry of Health were notified about the development on Thursday.

The minister had given the NARD leadership till the end of work on Wednesday to convene a virtual meeting of its National Executive Committee to brief its members on the efforts of the government to call off its strike.

The instrument signed by the minister read, “Whereas, trade dispute has arisen and now exists between the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors and the Federal Ministry of Health/Federal Government and whereas, efforts to promote settlement through conciliation were ongoing 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 claims to have and produced evidence to have 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, the Minister of Labour and Employment, in the 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.”

Ngige had also attended the meeting of the Medical Elders Forum, comprising practising and retired senior medical practitioners, where he explained the efforts made by the Federal Government to address NARD’s demands.

The minister reportedly appealed to the medical consultants in hospitals who doubled as teachers in medical colleges not to join the ongoing strike as threatened by the NMA.

Meanwhile, NARD, on Friday, described the Federal Government as wicked for not meeting its members’ demands, leaving them with no other option than to embark on the ongoing strike.

The association’s National President, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, stated this in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, while reacting to criticisms by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire.

The minister, who spoke during the weekly press briefing with State House correspondents in Abuja on Thursday, said the decision of the resident doctors to go on strike during the third wave of COVID-19 was a wicked move.

But the NARD President said government officials were also wicked for not meeting the resident doctors’ demand.

He said, “They are also wicked for not honouring our demands, we issued several ultimatums. These issues are not new issues but they have decided not to meet our demands.”

Speaking on the government’s threat of invoking the no-work-no-pay policy, he said, “They can keep their money. We are also meeting with our lawyers as regards the notice we got from the National Industrial Court.

“We will decide whether or not we will honour the court notice after adequate deliberations with our lawyers.”

Also reacting, the General Secretary of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Philips Ekpe, disagreed with Ehanire’s submission that the striking doctors were being wicked.

Ekpe argued that if NARD had gone on strike without notifying the government, then the minister’s submission might have been justified.

He said, “Why would you sign an agreement with someone based on their demand and renege on it? And the person gave you enough time before embarking on strike. So, who is at fault? Who is wicked? There is no way NARD would just wake up and say they are going on strike.”

But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has advised the resident doctors to be humble, rather than “play God.”

Ngige gave the advice while speaking at the second summit of the Medical Elders Forum in Abuja on Thursday.

The programme was organised by the African Health Budget Network with the theme ‘Medical profession: A look into the past, present and future.’

Ngige, who expressed concerns over the state of the health sector, said the medical profession was in danger.

The minister said, “At no time in the history of NMA and the medical association was I seeing our association and our profession ever being in danger as I am seeing them now.

“Many people will not see it, but from where I am sitting and standing, I can see danger ahead.

“We are one of the oldest professions on earth, metamorphosing from natural and traditional healers to take away pain from people and consequentially save lives.

“We don’t create lives, God creates, we only preserve people’s lives through the act of God. In doing so, God has given us some powers.

“But there is something God does not want. God does not want when he gives you powers and you use it to try to say that you are like him or you are competing with him.

“God loves you to do that which he has asked you to do; to use that power with humility.”

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