Health workers, including doctors, whose salaries were seized while enforcing the no-work, no-pay policy, got a reprieve yesterday. President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the Finance, Budget and National Planning Minister Zainab Ahmed to release the withheld salaries.
Labour and Employment Minister Dr. Chris Ngige, confirmed the development when he fielded questions from State House reporters in Abuja yesterday.
He said the President has since approved the authority letter to release the funds of the resident doctors for September and October 2021.
The minister, who earlier met behind closed door with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, said the presidential approval for the releases of the salaries was on compassionate ground and to encourage the affected workers to perform better in their respective places of work.
According to Ngige, the approval covers members of the Joint Health Services Union (JOHESU) who went on strike in 2018.
The minister said: “The President graciously approved that we pay back some funds, some wages, which we did not pay health workers.
“First, section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act says that when a worker goes on strike, especially those on essential services, the employer can also refuse to pay. That is what they call it the ‘No work, no pay rule’.
But these health sector workers; doctors, pharmacists, nurses and members of JOHESU, are trying to make sure that we create an equitable environment for them to function.
“As a first step, Mr. President last week directed the Minister of Finance to release the funds of the resident doctors for September and October 2021, which was seized in conformity with the law.
“In the same vein, the approval also covers members of the JOHESU who went on strike in 2018 for three months.
“After the first month, after March, when they couldn’t come back, we asked that their pay be suspended. This is in tandem with the ILO principles at work.
“You have a right to strike, but the employer has a right to stop your remuneration and if possible, use it to keep his enterprise going by taking new hands, where possible, especially in essential services.
“So, that same money for 2018 April and May, Mr President has again approved that the Finance Minister refunds, or re-imburses them on compassionate grounds.
“This is predicated on the grounds that this group of workers has been showing a lot of dedication and concern to the COVID-19 and that their Hazard Allowance for 2021 had remained what it was before.
“So, on compassionate grounds and…we agreed that they should be getting this money to keep their morale high. We’re not yet free of COVID-19 and the new mutants, we need to do everything to keep the health workers here happy.