Amidst the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) have threatened to commence an ‘indefinite strike’ on Thursday if the Nigerian government fails to meet their demands.
The president of the association, Uyilawa Okhuaihesuyi, confirmed the development in a communique issued at the end of the NARD’s extraordinary National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held on Saturday.
The president said the ultimatum given to the federal government to meet its earlier demands will expire on March 31, 2021 with no significant achievement.
“The NEC unanimously agreed that NARD should proceed on a total and indefinite strike on the 1st of April 2021, by 8 am if the demands are not met,” Mr Okhuaihesuyi said.
Resident doctors, who are undergoing training to become consultants, make up a large percentage of doctors in Nigeria’s tertiary hospitals.
The doctors are demanding, amongst other things, payment of all salaries arrears, review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance especially in state-owned tertiary Institutions.
“Immediate payment of all salary arrears including March salaries for our members in all Federal and State Tertiary Health Institutions across the country especially ASUTH, IMSUTH and UNIMEDTH,” the president said.
“Upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50 per cent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding COVID-19 inducement allowance especially in State owned-tertiary Institutions.
“Payment of death in service insurance for all health workers who died as a result of COVID-19 infection or other infectious diseases in the country.”
The doctors are also demanding the “implementation of September 2017 Memorandum of Terms of Settlement between NARD and the government in order to bring lasting peace to the health sector and curb the ongoing ugly trend of brain drain from the health sector.”
According to the association, none of its members has benefited from the life insurance scheme put in place by the federal government after considering the danger health workers are exposed to during the pandemic.
”The PTF has received the Life Insurance cover to the frontline workers on COVID-19 for a maximum of 5000 health workers who are employed to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, had said at a briefing.
”The premium in the sum of N112,500,000 for the cover has been fully paid by the Nigerian Insurance Industry in line with the principle of No Premium, No Cover,” he said.
Despite risks associated with their profession, there have been numerous complaints of poor remuneration and welfare of health workers in Nigeria.
The doctors had downed tools in June and September 2020 over these same issues.
Controversial Hazard Allowance
Hazard pay, a wage supplement paid to workers who do dangerous jobs, has been the grouse of Nigerian health workers since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health workers, being the first respondents to patients, have continued to be at risk of exposure to infections including the COVID-19 virus.
Following a PREMIUM TIMES report in April 2020, the Nigerian government promised a special COVID-19 hazard and inducement allowance of 50 per cent of Consolidated Basic Salary to health workers in Nigerian Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centres (FMCs), and designated COVID-19 centres for the first three months.
Prior to this, health workers were being paid N5,000 a month as hazard allowance, a sum described as too little by health workers.
“Despite the three months window given to the Federal Government to review the hazard allowance of health workers, the hazard allowance has remained a paltry sum of five thousand (5000) naira monthly,” the president said.
Obinna Ogbonna, President, Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals, early this year said some health workers are yet to receive the hazard allowances while others were paid lower than agreed.
He said many of the workers are discouraged to face the second wave of the pandemic due to unfair treatment melted out on them.
“The government does not work their talk. They promised us that they will give inducement hazard allowance but they did this for only three months and until date, some of our members have not collected their COVID-19 hazard allowances,” he said.
Mr Ogbonna also said “the life insurance promised never came to reality, it’s only on the papers.”
As of Sunday night, Nigeria has recorded over 160,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,048 deaths, according to an update by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Although the exact number of health workers that have been infected in Nigeria so far could not be ascertained as of the time of reporting, at least 812 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 as of June 2020, according to Nigerian health minister, Osagie Ehanire.
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