By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna
LAGOS — Dark clouds have gathered yet again over fortunes of the health sector as doctors under the aegis of the Medical Guild withdraw their services from today, leaving patients in state-owned hospitals to their fate.
Findings revealed that doctors’ action which may paralyse services in the affected health institutions, is the beginning of a three-day warning strike to protest the failure of Lagos State government to fully implement the agreement they had with the Medical Guild in April 2011.
In a last minute effort to avert the strike, concerned members of the public had urged the parties involved to settle the outstanding issues amicably in the interest of the patients, many of whom may suffer setback in their treatment or even die.Pleas of the patients, according to health watchers, appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the concerned parties have continued to trade blames. While government maintains sealed lips over the issue, doctors have remained adamant and vowed to go ahead with the strike.
The Medical Guild, weekend, threatened to embark on a three-day warning strike to press home their demands for the implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure, CONMESS, as well as the downward review of excessive taxation, which the government imposed on the doctors.
Chairman of the Medical Guild, Dr. Olumuyiwa Odusote, said: ”The state government has continued to fool the doctors with what he described as ‘flimsy excuses’ not to pay the approved and signed salary structure by Governor Babatunde Fashola.”
In a telephone interview with Vanguard yesterday, Odusote, who confirmed that the strike would hold today, said it was unfortunate that the state government has refused to prevent the strike.
Further, he disclosed that the meeting between the parties last Wednesday ended in a stalemate.
He said: “It is unfortunate that our government is speaking from both sides of the mouth. While one of them will say we have agreed to pay, another will be telling us that they are not ready to pay. Afterwards, the latter will deny that he or she ever said that. How then will you believe such people?
“At the meeting last week, after one year, the state government was busy justifying the reasons why it has not fully implemented the agreement we entered into last year. They were busy speaking from both sides of the mouth”,
Earlier, Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Health, Dr. Yewande Adesina had described the strike threat as embarrassing to government.
In a telephone interview, weekend, she said the strike was unnecessary because government and doctors only met last Wednesday for negotiation which was 85-90 per cent successful, adding that both parties were expected to exchange memos by the weekend on final agreement over all outstanding grey areas.
State government reacts
Meanwhile, the state government has threatened that doctors who partake in the planned three-day warning strike will forfeit wages accrued to them within the period of the strike in accordance with the Trade Dispute Act.
The warning with reference number CIR/HOS/12/037, is contained in a circular by the State Head of Service, Mr. Adesegun Ogunlewe.
In the circular, Ogunlewe who made reference to the provision of Section 43(1) of the Trade Dispute Act, said it would henceforth be enforced in the state.
According to him,“Section 43(1) of the Act states ‘Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act or in any other law where any worker takes part in the 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 of continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly.”
The circular further enjoined workers in the state service of government’s continuous commitment to their welfare, particularly those providing essential services while stressing the need for them to respect their contract of employment, trade dispute act as well as ethics, oaths and code of their profession while in the employment of the state government.
Reasons for the dispute
The Medical Guild Congress at its Ordinary General Meeting on April 3, 2012 resolved to go on strike to press home its demands for the 100 per cent implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure, CONMESS, a salary structure for all doctors in Federal and State hospitals across the country. They are also seeking downward review of alleged excessive taxation, imposed by the state government on the doctors.
Their grievence is that one year after entering into agreements to implement CONMESS fully and do a downward review of the excessive tax regime, government has refused to honour the agreement. Rather than a downward review of the excessive taxation, they accused the state government of further tax increase in October, 2011.
All entreaties of the doctors have failed as the government has been reneging on its promises and shifting timeliness for implementation of the agreement.
Increment in the tax
President, Association of Resident Doctors at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH-ARD), Dr. Babajide Saheed said in 2011, the government paid the doctors a bonus, which prompted an increment in tax. In the new year, when the payment of the bonus was stopped, the tax was not reduced.
According to LASUTH- ARD Secretary, Dr. Jimi Sodipo, doctors are not just interested in their welfare but the underlying principle in calling off the strike in March 2011 when the CONMESS was approved was because of the patients. It is not that doctors are insensitive to the plight of patients.”
Former President, LASUTH-ARD, Dr. Saliu Oseni said despite promises by the state government to implement CONMESS, the agents of the government had continued to manipulate the agreement to suit their own purpose.
He said: “As I stand here, my salary based on the Lagos State Medical Salary Scale (LAGMED). CONMESS has not been implemented.”
Between August and November 2010 and February and April 2011, doctors in the Lagos State employment withdrew their services to press for the same implementation of CONMESS and other demands.
In March, 2011, the Lagos State Government approved the implementation of CONMESS for all doctors in the state and thereafter, the strike was suspended.
Possible impact on services
“During this period, all services will be withdrawn by our members,” said Odusote.
He said if need be, in-patients in severe medical conditions during this period may be transferred to hospitals in neighbouring states.
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