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Nigerian Doctors on 'Warning Strike'

Doctors in Nigeria's public health institutions are providing limited services this week to protest a new pay structure announced by government in January. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports that there is now the likelihood of an all-out strike next week.

Under the limited strike called by the Nigerian Medical Association, doctors working in the public sector will not be on duty beyond regular working hours.

Nigeria Medical Association Vice President Rotimi Adewoye says the government has been put on notice about a paralyzing strike next week.

"From today, the withdrawal of call services is what will first happen. We actually want to give the government the chance to address the issues. So, it will not appear as if what we are interested in is the strike," said Adewoye. "But from this Monday till the weekend, there is going to be withdrawal of call services then the total strike will start on Monday, if nothing is done."

The doctors are upset over a new pay system which they claimed put them at a severe disadvantage and eroded their earning power.

Doctors in government service in Nigeria earn an average of one-thousand dollars a month. Dr. Adewoye hopes to bring doctors' pay up to the amount of compensation received by political office holders.

"At least a doctor should be able to buy a descent car. The present salary they are giving us, even if we are taking the salary for the next ten years, the doctor will not be able to build a house, will not be able to buy a new car," he said. "Whereas, if you are a councilor or a chairman of a local government for four years you'll have everything. We cannot afford to live like paupers in our country, where there is affluence everywhere that we can see."

Several trade unions have criticized the new arrangement. Public sector doctors may be the first to stage a walkout, but there is growing discontent within the larger public service sector.

President Olusegun Obasanjo says the government is keen to streamline salaries and allowances. The Nigerian leader says the government is willing to negotiate with disenchanted employees.

"We did a harmonization and consolidation. What we had before that exercise is that you have the salary and then you have all sorts of allowances," he said. "What has caused this is that in the past, people are trying to hide their allowance and hide their remunerations from tax. Of course if any body or any group feels that they want to talk about this, you can bargain. Each of you will go and bargain on your own. The ministry of labor is ready for that, the government is ready for that. But don't let us go the way we had gone in the past, of multiplicity of allowances."

The Nigerian Medical Association has a membership of about 40,000. However, this number is dropping as doctors leave to seek a better life in developed countries.