Ngige: Doctors’ action violates trade dispute, breach of agreement
Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
There is no end in sight to the industrial action in the social services sector in the country, as the major non-academic staff unions of tertiary institutions in the country, Wednesday resolved to embark on an indefinite strike from September 11 if the federal government failed to meet their demands.
Should they carry out their threat, they would be joining the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) whose members have downed tools, making life unbearable for Nigerians.
The latest strike notice from the non-academic unions came just as the federal government was meeting ASUU and NARD Wednesday to resolve the issues leading to their strike.
The non-teaching staff’s strike was announced in Abuja at a briefing of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
Speaking at the briefing, the chairman of JAC who also doubles as the President of SSANU, Mr. Samson Ugwoke, vowed that the nationwide strike would be total and comprehensive.
Giving details on the intensity of the strike, Ugwoke said: “During the strike, there shall be no provision of services, no matter how skeletal.
“Concessions shall not be granted while all our members are to stay at home until further notice, unless as directed by JAC through their respective presidents.”
Ugwoke recalled that the non-teaching staff unions in the Nigerian university system had entered into agreements with the federal government in 2009 on a variety of issues affecting their members and their welfare.
According to him, these agreements were feely entered into through the instrumentality of collective bargaining.
He said: “Following the agreements, we had for eight years, patiently and understandingly awaited action from government to consummate the terms of the agreements.
“Unfortunately, government has not been responsive to these issues and where actions appear to have been taken on any of them, they have been implemented in breach of the agreement.
“In between, we had engaged in various consultations and dialogue with government on the issues at stake. Letters had been written and protests carried out to no avail
“Through various organs of government, particularly the offices of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labour and Employment, we had made representations on our issues which have largely been ignored.
“Rather than heed to our demands, matters have continued to get worse. Our universities have continued to deteriorate. The poor governance system in the universities which has brought the universities to their kneels has perpetrated itself to the point that our rankings amongst the comity of world class universities are deplorable.”
Listing the reasons for the strike, the JAC chairman said that they are ranged from the non-payment of earned allowances, lack of good governance, poor funding as against the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommendation, inadequate infrastructure in universities, abandoned projects, irregular payment of salaries, implementation of CONTISS 14 and 15 for Colleges of Technology to corruption in the university system.
Ugwoke listed others to include registration of NUPEMCO (pension management scheme), showing more commitment and seriousness in the renegotiation of the 2009 FGN/University unions agreements, and ensuring the headship of non-teaching units by non-teaching staff employed for the purpose of those units, among others.
He observed that if an agreement was signed in 2009, and in 2017 they were still demanding the implementation of the agreement, the non-academic staff unions had been exceedingly patient.
“Our patience, however, seems to have run out, particularly when the federal government appears to be toeing the dangerous path of taking the non-teaching staff unions for granted,” he said.
Ngige Upbraids Doctors over Strike
But just as the non-academic staff unions in the tertiary institutions served notice of their strike, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, described the industrial action embarked upon by resident doctors in the country as a breach of the agreement reached with NARD and Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act of the Federation.
Ngige stated this Wednesday at the resumption of the meeting between the federal government’s delegation and members of the NARD and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
The minister said as the chief conciliator between the Federal Ministry of Health and the doctors, NARD was guilty of reneging on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reached last Thursday, in which the parties agreed to reconvene on November 2, 2017.
He said: “The Ministry of Health looks like they were short changed because Section 18 of the Trade Dispute Act of the Federation, 2004, states that once a conciliation starts by the minister, no party is allowed to stage a lockout, neither the employee nor the employer.
“It is against this background that I said the Federal Ministry of Health is being short changed.
“You will recall that last week Thursday, August 31, 2017, we were here and had a very fruitful deliberation and produced a memorandum of settlement which was a collective bargaining agreement.
“And one of the articles there was that NARD should revert to their National Executive Committee and present the agreement with a view to shelving the strike that they had proposed.
“But we were surprised that the agreement that was entered into was repudiated by NARD and they embarked on the strike (on Sunday), and we had to contact the leadership of NARD and that of NMA, following which we all agreed to reconvene today.
“Therefore, our meeting proposed for November was now moved forward so that we could meet today.
“We are meeting today in an atmosphere and an industrial dispute resolution that I don’t think is very fair to the Federal Ministry of Health, even though I am a government minister and I am the chief conciliator..
“If the government was wrong I will admit that government was wrong, but if the employee is wrong I will also say so.”
Ngige, who nonetheless said the meeting would not apportion blame but take a critical look at the grey areas in the agreement, disclosed that at a short meeting of concerned government ministries, departments and agencies held before the commencement of the general meeting Wednesday, he was satisfied that active steps had been taken to end the strike by the resident doctors.
“I can assure you that before this meeting goes into a technical session, we had a meeting on the government side and I was surprised that the Ministry of Health, Office of the Head of Service and others had commenced implementation of the agreement.
“The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation has prepared the shortfall and forwarded it to the Central Bank of Nigeria for implementation,” he added.
The minister was optimistic that the areas of disagreement were going to be settled at Wednesday’s meeting so that “the doctors can go back to their patients,” expressing confidence that the doctors’ strike would be the shortest ever.
However, the Presidents of NMA and NARD, Dr. Mike Ogirima and Dr. John Onyebueze, as well as the Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, declined to comment before the meeting commenced.
Also present at the meeting, which was still ongoing at press time in the Labour Ministry, were the Chairman, Salaries, Wages and Income Commission, Chief Richard Egbule, and representatives of the Office of the Head of Service, Office of the Accountant General, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and the Federal Ministry of Finance.