Nigeria’s federal government has taken measures to prevent senior doctors under the auspices of the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MEDCAN) from joining the ongoing industrial action by the resident doctors.
The action by the government came just as the striking resident doctors vowed to argue their case at the Industrial Court sitting tomorrow.
THISDAY gathered that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has directed the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission to halt the movement of consultants from CONMESS to CONUAS salary scale.
The move by the minister is seen as a damage control measure to prevail on the senior doctors not to withdraw services on Monday, August 16 (tomorrow) as stated in their ultimatum to the federal government.
However, the resident doctors under the auspices of the National Association Resident Doctors (NARD) have vowed to go on with their two-week-old strike.
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY on Saturday, the National President of NARD, Dr. Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, said they were prepared to take up issues at the Industrial Court tomorrow when the matter comes up.
“Yes, we have received a summons on the suit at the Industrial Court and we will go to the court and we are confident that we will get justice in the end. We are not suspending the strike,” he said.
Sources at the Ministry of Labour and Employment told THISDAY that the minister’s directive on salary scale which has been complied with was meant to prevent a total shutdown of the hospitals.
MEDCAN is a group of senior doctors, who are medical consultants that teach and guide the resident doctors in their professional operation towards becoming specialists and consultants in their area of specialisation.
MEDCAN had on July 26, 2021, issued a 21-day ultimatum to the federal government to correct the unwarranted removal of the consultants from CONMESS to CONUAS 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 the 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 April 23, 2021.
The letter requested that all medical doctors in the employ of universities who do extra work on 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.
These doctors had a sequel to this, approached the NSIWC for a reversal but met a brick wall.
They then went to court and secured an injunction against the NSIWC and the Accountant General of the Federation.
THISDAY gathered that Ngige waded into the matter on August 6, 2021, to pacify the consultants who are the only ones now offering services in the various hospitals and medical centres to cushion the impact of the resident doctors’ strike.
In a bid to stop the consultants from joining the strike, the Minister last Thursday directed the Chairman of the National Salaries Income and Wages Commission to halt the implementation of the circular in obedience to the court order obtained by these doctors to help conciliation that will be devoid of rancour.
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 stopped both the NSIWC and the office of the Accountant General from implanting that circular.
Ngige also wrote to the Ministry of Finance not to act on the content of the NSIWC letter given the ongoing conciliation and the court case.
According to the source, the minister had expressed 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.
“This directive of the Minister of Labour has effectively been carried out by the NSIWC on Friday, August 13, 2021, 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.”
The letter read in part: “The commission is in receipt of a request by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment who is currently conciliating the threat to withdraw services by MDCAN and the interim order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in suit No. NICN/ABJ/145/2021 – Dr. Christopher Lucky Akpa and others Vs. National Salaries Income and Wages Commission and others, for a stay of action in respect of our letter of April 22, 2021, for those already enrolled, pending the outcome of both conciliatory meeting and the matter in court.
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja