….Strikes truce with JOHESU
…As NMA calls on NEC, others to prevent sector collapse
By our correspondents
The Minster of Labour and
Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, on Tuesday said the Federal Government does not owe any doctor or health worker in Nigeria monthly salary.
Ngige, said this at the opening of the meeting of the Presidential Committee on Salaries with the leadership of the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) on Tuesday in Abuja.
He said the clarification becomes necessary to counter the propaganda by the striking members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).
He said that the fumes from the propaganda machine of NARD were obfuscating the reality of the federal government efforts to reposition the health sector.
“NARD goes about telling Nigerians that government is owing them salaries and as well not taking the problems in the health sector seriously.
“But this is not true. It is incorrect. No doctor, nurse, pharmacist or any other health worker including the driver is owed monthly salary.
“Government pays as and when due.
“The truth is that NARD doctors fail to tell Nigerians that their colleagues who are owed salaries are the ones illegally recruited.
“Therefore, they were neither captured by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation nor was their payments provided for by the Budget Office of the Federation.
“Monthly salaries are done as and when due for those legitimately employed by the Federal Government, but not to those illegally employed or need their appointments regularised and captured in the finances of government for payment.
“This takes a process which is not accomplished overnight,” he said.
He, however, referred to the presidential waiver for employment into the critical Health and Defence Ministries in view of the general embargo on employment.
The minister assured that doctors illegally recruited would have their service regularised in due course.
He noted that money which the federal government owes few doctors and other workers was the 2020 COVID-19 allowances.
He said that this was besides the arrears of the consequential adjustment of the National Minimum Wage and skipping allowance which cut across other sectors, noting that work is in progress to clear this.
He blamed the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and JOHESU for bringing segregation in the negotiation for the new hazard allowance, which the federal government already budgeted the N37.5 billion for.
“We started joint negotiation to round off discussion and implement new hazard allowance as early as possible so as to stave off the current wolf-crying by doctors.
“They brought in segregation and couldn’t agree with JOHESU and both now want separate negotiations. Why then blame government and make it an issue to strike for,” Ngige said.
Also, the Minister of State for Health, Sen. Olorunnimbe Mamora, said that it was a wrong time to go on strike.
He noted that despite financial constraints, government was committed to payment of salaries of doctors and health workers.
On his part, the Minister of State for Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba, rued the expanding budgetary expenditure of government even as revenue continues to dwindle.
He added that government was doing its best and committed to workers welfare, but certainly won’t continue to borrow to pay salaries.
The JOHESU President, Mr Josiah Biobelemonye, said its members were the “the patient dog of the health sector.”
He called for swiftness in tackling the challenges facing its members, to avoid forcing them to strike.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government following the Tuesday elongated meeting said it has reached a truce with aggrieved health workers under the Joint Health Sector Unions and Assembly of Healthcare Professionals, after a five-hour meeting.
The long hours deliberation which culminated to the truce hosted by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, commenced 4:00pm and terminated around past 9:00pm yesterday with an understanding reached by both parties.
It would be recalled that JOHESU had last week issued a 15-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to meet their demands or face strike.
However, briefing journalists after the meeting, Ngige said they held fruitful discussions, assuring that the Memorandum of Understanding would be signed next week.
According to a statement by the Mnistry of Labour and Employment spokesman. Charles Akpan, titled, ‘FG, JOHESU reach truce, ‘ the minister explained that the parties reached an understanding on all the issues in dispute, including the enhancement of hazard allowance, review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years, the arrears of the consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage and upward adjustment of Consolidated Health Salary Structure as done with Consolidated Medical Salary Structure.
However, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has called on the National Economic Council (NEC) and Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) to intervene in addressing doctors’ welfare challenges to prevent a collapse of industrial harmony.
The NMA made the appeal in a communique issued at the end of the association’s National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Edo from Aug. 22 to Aug. 28.
The communique was signed by Prof. Innocent Ujah, the NMA President, and Dr Philips Ekpe, the NMA Secretary-General, and issued on Tuesday in Abuja.
The association also called on the National Council of Traditional Rulers and the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council to urgently intervene on the matter before it escalates.
The association stated that it would not be able to guarantee industrial harmony if the Federal Government fails to pay the salary arrears owed to doctors in some states.
“Council viewed with deep concern the poor welfare of its members in Abia, Imo, Ekiti, Ondo and Anambra States, where monthly salaries ranging from four to 20 months remain unpaid resulting in suffering and deprivation.
“Council also notes with dismay the impact of the withdrawal of healthcare service delivery in these states including the training of medical students at the states’ teaching hospitals.
“The Association calls on the National Economic Council (NEC), the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), National Council of Traditional Rulers, and the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council.
“It also calls on other stakeholders to as a matter of urgency intervene now before the matter escalates, as the NMA may no longer guarantee industrial harmony if the salary arrears are not paid in the shortest possible time,” the communiqué read in part.
The association criticised the federal government’s slow progress in developing a new hazard allowance for medical doctors and other health workers to commensurate with the level of risk in the health sector.
The association described the circulars stopping salary payment for doctors in academics and removing house officers and NYSC doctors from the scheme of service as ‘provocative.’
“The NMA rejects these circulars and advises the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF) to take immediate steps to withdraw them.
“The association vowed to explore all legal avenues to reverse some of the federal government’s decisions concerning medical professionals in academia.
“Council observes the exclusion of holders of Medical Fellowship from vying for Vice Chancellorship positions in some universities.
“The exclusion is being done on the premise that medical fellowship is a professional qualification and not a degree equivalent of PhD.
“Council notes with pride that the curriculum content of the fellowship programmes, which encompasses both academic and professional aspects exceed any other curriculum for postgraduate programmes in Nigeria.
“The council vows to pursue this matter using all lawful means to reverse the unfair disenfranchisement of its members in the academia from attaining the apex of academic leadership position,” it added.
The association hinted that to expose illegal medical practitioners, it would soon conduct an “operation show your current practicing license.”
It said that the action would be carried out in collaboration with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) and security agencies in the country.
The association urged members to always renew their licenses to avoid embarrassment and getting sanctioned.
The NMA NEC meeting was organised with the theme “Medical Practice in the Face of National Insecurity: Implications for Nigerian Healthcare Indices.”