THE Nigerian government has threatened to sack all the doctors on strike next week if they fail to return to work.
Minister for Labour and Employment Chris Ngige made the vow when he appeared on Channels TV’s ‘Politics Today’ on Friday.
“If you go to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Principles at Work, it guarantees a worker right to strike, but with consequences. Your employer on essential services, in particular, has the right to replace you. He will also withdraw your remuneration and use it to pay those acquired when you were away. So, Nigeria being a member of ILO, in our Trade Dispute Act (2004), Section 43, it is there to protect both the worker and the employer.”
While threatening to carry out the decision ‘100 per cent,’ he said he would ‘escalate’ the decision Monday because conciliation had failed.
“The law says if conciliation fails on my part, I can take it up through Industrial Court of Nigeria.”
Ngige said the government would employ ad-hoc or local doctors to replace the striking doctors.
But he did not explain what he meant by local doctors, as the term does not apply to orthodox medicine practice in Nigeria.
The minister boasted that more than enough trained doctors in the country did not get the opportunity to work.
Ngige, a medical doctor, who claimed to have been trained by the government and acquired two scholarships, said medical practitioners in the country snubbed the country to work abroad because there was no opportunity to work in the country.
According to him, the National Hospital Abuja announced vacancies for 80 resident doctors last weekand over 3,000 applicants turned up.
He said he would invoke the law as, according to him, the nation was under the rule of law.
“There is nothing else I can do”, he stated, as he vowed to replace the doctors.
Ngige said the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) failed to give the Federal Government time to implement agreement with its members.
He also slammed the practitioners for accusing the Federal Government of not meeting its demand. According to him, many states in the country owed them salaries and other benefits for months.
“By next week, if they are not back, I will condone the ten or eleven days that they did (strike) in April into no work, no pay because they didn’t work, and they want to receive money.
“Taking money for the work not done is corruption. It’s not done anywhere in the world.”
The minister also said resident doctors always competed with one another.
According to him, every leader of the doctors’ group must declare a strike before becoming popular.
He then gave a threat: “They should not be drinking that milk; I will remove it from their mouth.”
He said the government had done much to provide a conducive environment for medical practice in the country. “I know what the health budget is for the past 25 to 30 years. I worked with the Federal Ministry of Health. I was in the Department of Hospital Services, in charge of federal medical centres and teaching hospitals.
“So I know what health budget is, in terms of doctors’ training. I supervised that desk for two years or two and a half years. I supervised residency training. I am telling you that health is on the concurrent list. State governments are doing health; they are supposed to do health. But everything here is federal. Nobody is talking about state hospitals.”
Ngige said state governments had not done what they were supposed to do, leaving the sector for the Federal Government.
He also justified medical tourism in the country. “It depends on you. If you have the means and you want to do a medical checkup abroad, why not? It’s permitted.”
He, however, said an average Nigerian did not need to travel out of the country because virtually everything required for healthcare delivery was available in the country.
The minister said he uses the National Hospital Abuja and a private health facility.
NARD declared the strike in a communique it issued last Saturday after its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Umuahia, Abia State.
Three days into the strike, the doctors claimed the government had not contacted them.