Why the doctors’ strike lingers -Lagos Govt

The Lagos State Government at the weekend attributed the lingering strike by doctors to the refusal by the Medical Guild and Association of Resident Doctors to respond to the numerous interventions and avenues for negotiation.

In a Press Statement signed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Opeyemi Bamidele, and made available over the weekend, the Government regretted that the doctors have refused to negotiate in spite of the personal intervention from the Governor, former Governors, the State House of Assembly, elder statesmen, Senior Clergymen, senior medical practitioners and well meaning Lagosians.

The strike which the Commissioner said, has caused undue hardship for the citizenry is being prolonged because of the Doctors’ insistence that all existing Establishment and Civil Service procedures be set aside by the Governor by arbitrarily directing a salary increment for doctors alone to the exclusion of other professional cadres in the health sector and service wide.

Giving an insight into the genesis of the current stand-off, the Commissioner said, Lagos State had always enjoyed harmonious labour- government relations and had resolved amicably several labour disputes .

Specifically on the doctors, Mr. Bamidele said that the Lagos State Government in 2009 effected an upward review of salaries of medical doctors which brought them at par with doctors at the federal level.

Also, as a show of goodwill and in recognition of their peculiar service, the state government approved allocation of vehicles for professionals in the health sector including doctors in phases. The first phase of 100 had been allocated while the delivery of the vehicles for the second phase is being awaited.

However, when recently the Federal Government without prior consultation with the other two-tiers of government introduced a special salary structure, for doctors in its employ , called CONMESS, some of the associations of doctors in the state especially the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) and the Medical Guild, began agitations for an immediate implementation of same structure in Lagos State.

This decision of the doctors, the Commissioner said, was without any consideration for the directive of the national body of the Nigerian Medical Associations which apart from publishing in a national daily also wrote to the Governor in a letter dated August 30, 2010 communicating that no state Chapter should threaten or embark on any strike over CONMESS.

The Commissioner stated that the action of the Medical Guild also took no cognizance of the fact pertaining to the current revenue sharing formula which makes it possible for the Federal Government to take 52 percent of the country’s revenue leaving the states and local councils to share 48 percent, any decision taken by the states would have severe implication for the local government which has responsibility for wages in other equally important sectors like primary education.

The Commissioner said quite contrary to the wrong impression that Governor Fashola had been rather aloof in the crisis, the Governor, apart from numerous meetings he directed to be held with the doctors, had met with them personally twice. One of the meetings the Governor, he said , lasted three hours while the other lasted five hours.

According to Mr. Bamidele, it was in the course of one of the meetings that the Medical Guild and Association of Resident Doctors’ representatives complained about the on-going matter at the Industrial Court noting their discomfiture with the order of the Judge to return to work and resume negotiations with the Government which they (the doctors) had by then breached.

To show good faith and his desire to get the doctors back to work, the Governor had then immediately directed the State’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice to withdraw the case from Court.

The Commissioner said that in the meetings, Governor Fashola had consistently appealed to the doctors that while their demand for wages review was not unreasonable, their was a need to present such demands to the Committee on the Development of Pay Policy, Review and Salary Determination in the State Public Service.

The Committee, chaired by the Commissioner for Establishment and Training, Mr. Jide Sanwoolu, the Government said, is to consider the issue of personnel emolument statewide in the public service with a view to permanently addressing perennial wage issues while paying attention to the peculiarities of each professional cadre.

According to the Commissioner for Information, the Medical Guild has refused to negotiate with the Committee or make any representation to it but insisted on the Governor single handedly signing a paper for them or directing by fiat, a wage increase for the doctors alone.

The statement by Mr. Bamidele, however explained that it is not the responsibility of the Governor to decide or determine a wage review for any cadre of staff in the public service adding that the process involves the Ministry of Establishment and Training, the Public Service Office, the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget, the Ministry of Finance and the Civil Service Commission whose recommendation will then go to House of Assembly for the appropriate legislation.

According to the Commissioner, the Governor has consistently stated that he would not be coerced or blackmailed into acting in an arbitrary manner noting that even the intransigence of the doctors and any interest group trying to make political capital out of the unfortunate development would not make him violate well established Public Service rules and the law.

According to the statement, within the health sector alone, it would be difficult to isolate the doctors for a wage review noting that other professional cadres in the medical care chain like the Pharmacists, Nurses, Radiologists and Laboratory Technologists have continued to carry out their duties.

Reiterating that the State Government won’t do anything illegal because of the approaching elections, the Commissioner said Government is available and ready to negotiate with the doctors adding however that innocent people must not continue to suffer while negotiation is going on hence the need to call off the strike immediately.

The statement noted that it was most unfortunate that most of the doctors currently involved in the strike are doctors training to be Specialists (Residents), a programme, financed from State resources.

According to the Commissioner, the current situation becomes more unfortunate when it is considered that professionals in the other sectors where the Federal Government arbitrarily introduced specialized pay structures like CONMESS have continued to work while negotiations with Government continued.

The statement noted that rather than blame the Lagos State Government for not negotiating with the doctors as being mischievously projected, all men of goodwill should prevail on the Medical Guild and Association of Resident Doctors to call off the strike forthwith and resume negotiation with the Government in the interest of the good people of Lagos State and the Hippocratic Oath they took as care givers.

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