The Federal Government on Sunday, 21st June 2020 said a total of 55,031 health workers in 35 Covid-19 designated hospitals and medical centres have so far been paid Special Hazard Allowance totalling N4,642,485,146.00 and that more payments are being processed.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed disclosed this in Abuja, at a Joint Press Conference he held with the Minister of Health , Dr. E Osagie Ehanire and the Minister of Labour & Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige on the ongoing strike action by Association of Residents Doctors of Nigeria .
* L-R: Minister of Health , Dr. E Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Information & Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed and Minister of Labour & Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige addressing a Joint Press Conference on strike action by Association of Residents Doctors of Nigeria.*
Underscoring the importance and urgency of the Joint Press Conference, Alhaji Mohammed told journalists that “I am sure this is the first time we are inviting you to a press conference on Sunday. But it is said that a toad does not run in the daytime for nothing. There is, therefore, no doubt that the subject of today’s press conference must be an important one, and it is!”
He added that “Indeed, anything that touches on human life is of paramount importance. That is why we are here this Sunday to address the issue of the ongoing strike by the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which started on Monday, June 15th 2020 and has continued to this day.”
- Alh Mohammed*
Giving a background to the strike action by the doctors, he recalled that “The Association issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Federal Government on June 1st 2020, during which it demanded the resolution of the issues they raised. The issues are:
i. Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all health workers;
ii. Immediate reversal of the disengagement of 26 resident doctors at Jos University Teaching Hospital;
iii. Immediate implementation of the Special Hazard Allowance and
COVID-19 Inducement Allowance which, in the first instance, is the initiative of the federal government.
iv. Capturing of funding for Medical Residency Training Programme in the 2021 appropriation bill;
v. Payment of all arrears of consequential adjustment of the national minimum wage to its members and implementation of such in the State tertiary health institutions.
vi. State Governments that had slashed the members salaries by as much as 25%, like Kaduna and Kogi, to be made to stop and refund such.”
He stated that “prior to this period, the Federal Government, under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment (FML&E) had, on April 21st 2020, convened a pro-active emergency meeting between the Government side comprising Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMoF), the National Salaries Incomes and Wages (NSIWC) and the Office of the Head of Service (OHOSF) and the Health Professional Associations and Unions under Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU). The Professional Associations comprised of the Leadership of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria (PAN), the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and the Health Unions by JOHESU Leadership. The aim of the meeting was to rub minds with these Health Workers on how to successfully work with them throughout the pandemic.”
Alhaji Mohammed said “The proactive step by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment was informed by the fact that as a Medical Doctor, he realized that an industrial action by any group in the Health chain will be disastrous to our weak, fragile health system at this period of pandemic, so he had stressed and conveyed to the Health workers, the Federal Government’s, and in particular Mr. President’s, gratitude for their bravery, courage and devotion as frontline workers in the fight against the unseen mortal enemy – Covid-19.”
He stressed that “ It is pertinent to say that the issues raised by the Association, while issuing its ultimatum on June 1st, have received or are receiving full attention:
i. Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, have been supplied to all State and Federal Tertiary Hospitals and funds for the same have been provided in the revised 2020 budget.
ii. Implementation of the Residency Training programme was backed by the National Assembly, which provided ₦4 billion in the revised 2020 budget, while the Ministry of Health is working with the Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to build a template to assure same in the Personnel Cost of 2021 Budget.
iii. We have also paid N9 billion as premium for Group Life Insurance to all our health workers and N4,642,485,146.00 as Special Hazard Allowance to health workers as already acknowledged in at least 35 hospitals.
Please note that the payment of COVID-19 Special Hazard Inducement allowances are based on 4 templates:
– 50% of Consolidated Basic Salary to all workers in Covid-19 designated Hospitals and Centres
– 40% of Consolidated Basic Salary to health workers in Non-Covid-19 designated Centres and Hospitals
– 10% of Consolidated Basic Salary to Non-Health Professionals engaged in those centres
– 20% of Consolidated Basic Salary special allowance to all health workers directly managing Covid-19 patients in Treatment and Isolation Centres
“In summary, a total of 55,031 Health workers in 35 Covid-19 designated hospitals and medical centres have been paid Special Hazard Allowance totalling N4,642,485,146.00 as of today and more payments
are being processed .”
He said “Other matters relating to non-payment of arrears dating as far back as 2014 or salaries owed by State Governments, are either in court, or beyond the power of the Federal Ministry of Health to resolve.”
The Minister recalled that “After the 14-day ultimatum was issued, negotiations were immediately opened with the Association, and were facilitated by the Health Committees of the National Assembly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and, of course, the Minister of Labour and Employment.”
He regretted that “ despite the payment of the Hazard Allowance and the Group Life Insurance, the provision of PPE as well as addressing other issues raised by the resident doctors, they still opted to proceed on strike. This is happening at a time the nation is battling a pandemic of immense proportions. This inexplicable strike is a dangerous setback for the nation’s efforts at tackling the pandemic.”
The Information and Culture Minister said the Federal Government was conscious of the importance of health workers in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and had been doing everything to address their welfare.
According to him, “ Gentlemen, as we have always said, the health workers are our heroes. They have been in the forefront of the efforts to contain the pandemic. In the process, many have been infected with the virus.
We are also aware of the challenges confronting health workers in carrying out their duties, especially the provision of the PPE. But I make bold to say that the Federal Government has done everything possible to procure PPE and make such available to our health workers. Of course, the fact that this is a global pandemic has affected the availability of PPEs and other requirements for fighting the pandemic. Not even the developed countries have been able to procure all that they require, such as PPEs and ventilators. But Nigeria has prioritized this and has also succeeded in procuring as many PPEs as possible for distribution to our health workers, and we now have a stockpile for emergency situation.
He said “ Apart from the provision of PPEs and other equipment, the Federal Government has done the following:
i Expansion of the testing laboratories from two to 38
ii Training of over 13,000 health workers in Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC)
iii Development of policy and protocols for testing returning Nigerians
iv Development of policies and protocols for integration of primary healthcare into national response
v. Development of stronger and sustainable policy for community engagement and risk Communication
vi. Increase in the isolation centre bed space from 3,000 to more than 5,000 nationwide”
Speaking further, he said “We have reeled out the details of the efforts made by the Federal Government to strengthen the nation’s capacity to respond robustly to the pandemic as well as to protect our healthcare workers.
We have also informed you that the government has effected the payment of Hazard Allowance and Group Life Insurance for the health workers. This is a responsible government and it has acted responsibly to avert this needless strike.
“ Gentlemen, many options are open to the Federal Government in tackling the strike, yet it has chosen negotiation over confrontation, as you can see in the efforts we have made so far. The Government has bent over backwards to meet the demands of the striking doctors.
“ We must express the Government’s consternation that resident doctors will choose a time like this, when we are battling a pandemic, to embark on a strike. This negates what obtains in other parts of the world, where health workers are rallying around their governments to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Nigeria must be among, if not the only nation, where doctors – who are classified as essential workers – have opted for a strike during a public health emergency.”
He noted that “Currently, only essential and skeletal service is being rendered in the nation’s public hospitals,” saying that “ There is no doubt that the strike has impacted negatively on public health, putting many lives –
including those of their members – at risk. This is not right and it clearly negatives the Hippocratic Oath to which the doctors subscribe.”
Alhaji Mohammed said “While the Federal Government continues to engage the resident doctors in negotiation, we want to use this opportunity to appeal to them to respect their oath and put life above other considerations. This is an ill-timed and ill-considered strike. We hope the striking doctors will
immediately reconsider their stand and end the strike today! By doing so, they will be saving many lives.”