The Nigerian government has threatened to invoke the ‘no work no pay rule’ on resident doctors that embarked on an indefinite strike on Monday.
Health minister Osagie Ehanire directed all medical directors in all public hospitals across the country to open a register by 7 a.m. from Wednesday and record ‘those who come to work and those who fail to come to work’.
The minister issued the directive on Tuesday shortly after a meeting between officials of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) ended in a deadlock.
Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act states that where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or other remuneration for the period of the strike, and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly.
The government has threatened and implemented the ‘no work, no pay rule’ on striking workers in the past.
The resident doctors announced the commencement of a nationwide “indefinite strike” on Monday morning in a communique issued at the end of their ‘virtual extraordinary National Executive Council Meeting’.
The NARD president, Aliyu Sokombo, said doctors downed tools over unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance, and a dearth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals among several other reasons. He said the association explored several other options before arriving at their decision.
Following the announcement, Mr Ehanire said the doctors’ decision especially in a time of the coronavirus outbreak may lead to loss of lives.
Mr Ehanire, while responding to questions at the daily Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing, on Monday, urged the doctors to show empathy by calling off the strike.
Speaking Tuesday after the meeting with the leadership of NARD ended in disagreement, the health minister said the government will do anything to protect the lives of Nigerians.
“We are ready to protect the lives of Nigerians; we are not going to allow our hospitals to fallow,” he told journalists.
Mr Ehanire claimed that Nigeria is the first country in the world where doctors went on strike during a global pandemic.
Meeting Doctor’s Demand
Also speaking after the meeting, the labour minister, Chris Ngige, said the government is going to implement the demands of the doctors in stages.
Mr Ngige said no conclusions were reached during Tuesday’s meeting, noting that the doctors have gone for consultations with their members and that “they would get back to government after 24 hours.”
“They said that they haven’t seen any tangible thing from government and that their accounts were yet to be credited. But I told them that the federal government has paid N2 billion to health workers across board in 14 teaching hospitals and Federal Medical Centres as of Monday,” the minister said.
He said the federal government has started paying the new hazard allowances to all categories of frontline health workers involved in COVID-19 treatment in batches.
“There are about 43 or 52 teaching hospitals and Federal Medical Centres in the country and we are paying them in batches. By Wednesday, the amount paid out would have hit N4 billion”.
“I don’t want to go into the integrity of the industrial action whether you’re essential services or not, whether you are supposed to go on strike or not, I will only commend you and say go and read your Labour Act and also the ILO regulations on essential services workers of which I know you’re one”, Mr Ngige noted.
Reacting, the President of NARD, Mr Sokomba said, “we would call off the strike within 24 hours once the government comes up with tangible outcome.”
Resident doctors are certified doctors undergoing residency to become consultants. They make up a large bulk of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
Health workers, being the first respondents to patients, have continued to be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus.
Although health workers have been advised to use full PPE before attending to patients, many do not have access to this equipment.
As of June 2, about 812 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria.