by Deji Abiodun
Medical doctors working for the Lagos State Government on Monday began an indefinite strike over several protracted issues with the state government.
Lagos state with its huge revenues generated internally is known for incessant strikes by doctors leading to the deaths of hundreds of Nigerians trying to get medical care during the period.
The Lagos doctors, under the aegis of the Medical Guild, are aggrieved over issues which include alleged engagement of doctors as casual workers and the withholding of doctors’ salaries for May 2012 and from August to September 2014 over the doctors involvement in industrial action.
It was learnt that the leadership of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) at the weekend, made unsuccessful efforts to meet with Governor Babatunde Fashola to discuss the unhealthy development.
“The inability of our leadership to meet with the governor or his representative on behalf of the state at the weekend has left our members with the only option of embarking on the proposed strike”, said one of the doctors in the employment of the state government.
A statement directing all medical doctors in the employment of state government to commence an indefinite strike from today was issued on Sunday and pasted on the hospitals’ notice boards.
The statement signed by the chairman of the Guild of Doctors, Dr. Biyi Kufo, reads:
“Lagos State Government (LASG) refuses to embrace last minute interventions by NMA National President and Secretary.
“All members (without exclusion) are to proceed on indefinite strike from 8am tomorrow, Monday 16/03/15.
“No clinics, No General Outpatients Department (GOPD) and no elective surgeries. Emergencies/Crritically ill patients only will be attended to.
In the notice of ultimatum, the Guild had stated: “The issues in contention include the continued employment of doctors as casual (contract) workers; the non-employment of resident doctors in the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH); and the discriminatory application of the state’s ‘no work, no pay’ policy to members of the Medical Guild in the period between April/May 2012 and September 2014.”
However, speaking to our Correspondent on behalf of government, Special Adviser on Public Health, Dr. Yewande Adesina, re-stated government’s position on some of the issues at stake, saying, “If the Federal Government has the fund and wherewithal to provide certain things, it is very wrong to impose it on the state; there is nowhere in the world this is done.
“if government said it does not have money to pay now and that it would do so by spreading payments overtime and the doctors do not believe, there is not so much that government can do about that; I however see it (the strike) as an easy way out to blame government for everything”, said Adesina.
On whether government is ready to pay the withheld doctors’ salaries, Adesina said, “There is a law and that law states, ‘no work no pay’; Lagos State did not manufacture it”.
Continuing, she explained, “in the past we have had to work with professional bodies to palliate and draw closer each time there was a strike.
Meanwhile the state government has described the current strike as illegal, just like the former one.
The Lagos State Government has threatened to enforce no-work-no-pay policy on members of the Medical Guild who have embarked on an indefinite strike in the state to press home demands for their payment of outstanding four months salaries.
The state government in a statement issued by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Aderemi Ibirogba, said the current action was illegal.
“On previous occasion, the doctors went on what they called a “sympathy strike” at the request of their professional association, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) which then had a dispute with the Federal Government.
“They had no trade dispute with the State Government (their employer),” he said, adding that doctors in private employment, who are also members of the NMA, did not join the so-called ‘sympathy strike.’
According to him, it is a fact that those health workers who did not work during the stated period were not paid.
“This “no work no pay rule” is not just a policy of the State Government as alleged. It is in line with international employment practices and the Trade Disputes Act, a federal legislation, which is binding on all authorities and persons in Nigeria. For the avoidance of doubt, section 43(1)(a) of the Trade Disputes Act provides that:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or any other law, where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or other remuneration for the period of the strike, and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly,” he said.
The commissioner added that apart from the demands of law, the law also accords with common sense.
“It is noteworthy that the State Government pays salaries using taxpayers’ money. Using funds contributed by taxpayers to pay persons who deprived the same taxpayers of care and caused them untold suffering and death is not only in contravention of law, it further goes against the dictates of good conscience,” he said, adding that the strike took place when Ebola Virus Disease hit Lagos.
“It was foreign doctors and volunteers that came to our aid to start the process of combating the virus in a commendable humanitarian gesture. It was, therefore, imperative that allowances be paid to them, rather than to doctors who chose to stay off their duty posts during a period of such national health emergency despite several entreaties made to them,” he said.
He said it was not true that representatives of the governor had refused to meet with the doctors over the dispute.
“ The governor did in fact meet with their leadership and that had been followed by several meetings with the commissioner for Health, Commissioner for Special Duties and other state officials in relevant administrative positions right up to the last weekend.
“It is, therefore, clear that conformity with a national law cannot form the basis of yet another strike,” he said and advised the doctors to resume their respective duty positions while discussions with the state government are ongoing.
He said government was committed to the continuance of health services to its teeming masses and would do all in its power to ensure that public health institutions continued to function and that it would protect health workers who were willing to work.