From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
A major strike that may have crippled Nigeria’s health sector was averted at the weekend when the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, swiftly met the demands of senior doctors of the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MEDCAN) who were set to down tools over salary issues.
Top government sources who exclusively confirmed the development to Sun Newspaper on phone revealed that Ngige’s intervention came via a directive to the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission to immediately halt the movement of consultants from CONMESS to CONUAS salary scale, which has been complied with.
According to a labour ministry source, the intervention was timely as the entire health sector could have been brought to its knees since resident doctors’ strike is still a lingering ache hospitals are battling.
‘You can’t even imagine the horror when MEDCAN joins NARD in a strike. That is a double whammy. But we’re glad the Labour Minister intervened, so this strike will not hold and other issues around doctors interests will be addressed,’ the source said.
MEDCAN is a body of seasoned medical Consultants that teach and guide the resident doctors in their professional operation towards becoming specialists and consultants in their areas of specialisation.
MEDCAN had on July 26, issued a 21-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to correct the removal of the consultants from CONMESS to CONUA salary scale by their employing universities who had earlier placed them on CONMESS upon appointment about 10 years ago.
The letter which moved them to CONUAS came through a circular by National Salaries income and Wages Commission NSIWC to the Accountant General of the Federation (ACGF) with reference No. SWC /5/04/S.410/T86 and dated 23/04/21. The letter requested that all medical doctors in the employment of universities and who do extra clinical teaching of the medical students or pre-clinical teaching of medical students in the colleges of medicine should all be moved from CONMESS to CONUAS salary structure .This has resulted in the loss of some allowances and even basic pay with the attendant loss of income.
The doctors, following this, approached the NSIWC for reversal but met a brick wall. Still not relenting, they approached the court and secured an injunction against the NSIWC and the Accountant General of the Federation but both institutions did not budge.
To resolve the impasse, the Minister of Labour and Employment waded into the matter on August 6 with the understanding that the consultants are the only ones now offering services in the various hospitals and medical centres with NARD still on strike.
Consequently, the minister on Thursday, August 12, directed the Chairman of the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission to halt the implementation of the obnoxious circular in obedience to the court order obtained by these doctors in order to help conciliation that will be devoid of rancor.
The minister also directed the NSIWC to reverse the instruction to the Accountant General of the Federation and return the medical consultants pay to the status quo in obedience to the court order which injuncted both the NSIWC and the office of the Accountant General from implanting that circular. Ngige also wrote to the Ministry of Finance not to affect the content of the NSIWC letter pending the conciliation and conclusion of the matter in court. Ngige had insisted that no matter how bad a court order is, it must be complied with.
Ngige was said to have expressed disbelief and embarrassment that NSIWC could take such a step of lowering people’s earnings in the period of COVID-19 without even bringing it up to the Presidential Committee of Salaries for their approval or even information.
He moved fast to direct the NSIWC and the ACGF to immediately halt implementation as this group of doctors are the last gate keepers since most members of NARD had gone off duties, leaving only these honorary consultants, few house officers and medical officers to man all the hospitals.
This directive of the Minister of labour has effectively been carried out by the NSIWC on Friday, August 13, through a letter to the Accountant General of the Federation to halt further action. MEDCAN has also been duly informed by both the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
Nonetheless, MEDCAN, Sun Newspaper learnt, will meet on Sunday, August 15 to agree on a next line of action, whether to proceed with planned strike or shelve it.
However, labour analysts believe that the labour minister’s timely intervention has saved the Federal Government another disgraceful industrial action, starting from August 16, that could have completely crippled the health sector.