By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Lagos State government has appealed to striking medical doctors to return to work, following ongoing negotiation between the two parties, in the interest of the public.
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Gbenga Omotoso, made the appeal on Monday, as medical doctors embarked on a three-day warning strike.
A joint meeting between the Commissioners for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi; Establishments, Training and Pensions, Mrs Ajibola Ponnle, and the Head of Service, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola, as well as all the permanent secretaries of the Ministry of Health, Establishment and Information, was held on Sunday, July 12, with the Medical Guild, Association of Resident Doctors and relevant stakeholders on the proposed warning strike.
Medical doctors in Lagos, on the platform of Medical Guild, began a three-day warning strike on Monday over wage disparity between the Federal and Lagos State doctors, COVID-19 hazard allowances and inducement allowances MOU approved by the Federal Government, non-payment of doctors working in isolation centres and disengagement of doctors in the isolation centres.
Explains rotation of doctors
The meeting was convened at the instance of the Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions after a series of meetings held at the instance of the Head of Service on behalf of stakeholders in the state Government with the representatives of the Medical Guild, National Association of Residents Doctors, NARD, LASUTH branch, and other relevant stakeholders to deliberate on the issues underlying the strike called by the Medical Guild.
According to Omotoso, “it is pertinent to note that the state government expresses extreme disappointment that the Guild continued with their warning strike despite a series of engagements with government aimed at resolving some of the grievances raised.
“Many issues have already been resolved, while unresolved issues are still being deliberated upon.
“It is worrisome that some members of this noble profession would down tool at a time when their services are mostly required. We believe this action is insensitive and lacks empathy which our profession epitomises.”
The state government, therefore, requested the members of the Medical Guild, who embarked on a three-day warning strike Monday to return back to work.
While explaining the facts and action of the major issues raised by the Guild with respect to some issues affecting the frontline and indeed all health care personnel, Omotoso stated that Mr. Governor has been extremely supportive of health workers being mindful of the extreme sacrifices that healthcare professionals are demonstrating in the COVID-19 response.
His words: “We are currently rotating our health workers who are engaged in providing care at the isolation facilities.
“They are not being dismissed, this is wrong information. Healthcare professionals are returning to their primary posting for the following reasons: to reduce fatigue and burn out among health workers, to build capacity for treatment of COVID-19 across the health work force, to ensure that as many health workers as possible benefit from the additional allowances.”
On COVID-19 allowances
On non-payment of COVID-19 allowances for May and June, the Commissioner said: “We started paying extra special COVID allowances for frontline workers who are involved directly with the Lagos State COVID-19 response.
“This was put in place before any other state in the nation with payments as high as N672,000 per month in addition to their normal remuneration packages for each cadre and which represents financial incentives over and above that paid by the Federal counterparts.
“In fact, where discrepancies exist between Federal and state allowances, Lagos State has paid the difference to ensure parity.
“Payments for March and April were made on time. However, in order to ensure uniformity and accuracy of the allowances, due diligence measures had to be put in place before subsequent month’s payments were approved.
“As we speak these payments have been approved and being received by the workforce.
“Additionally, all healthcare professionals receive a hazard allowance, which has been temporarily increased by 400% at the discretion of Mr. Governor periodically during this period.”
On the disparity in salary for doctors, Omotoso said: “The skipping policy adopted by some Federal institutions is responsible for this, as the new minimum wage in Lagos State places all members of the state above the Federal level.
“Information received from Federal Government Medical Centres indicates that the Skipping Policy, which places the Federal counterparts one Grade Level above the state is the basis of this disparity.
“It is important to note that this is not in conformity with the Scheme of Service agreed by the National Council of Establishment and is a subject of litigation in the Federal Court of Appeal and, therefore, the State Government cannot implement such a policy until judgement is delivered.”
On heavy taxation of health workers, he said: “It was made clear to the Guild that the Personal Income Tax Act is standard to all and calculated on the basis of the tax table.
“A meeting has been scheduled with officials of LIRS this week with a view to exploring ways of reducing the tax burden. Mr. Governor has also approved the exemption of the hazard allowance from tax for state health workers.
“The Lagos State government, recognising that the state is at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the nation, has gone over and beyond its duty of care to ensure that the welfare of the medical workers in the state is placed as top priority.
“The state government will continue to play its part in ensuring the battle over COVID is won, under the able leadership of Mr. Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and urge the Guild to continue to take full advantage of the dispute resolution processes provided by the state to resolve all issues, bearing in mind that these are unusual times for the nation and the entire world.
“The government, therefore, wishes to assure citizens that while negotiation is ongoing, services at all state-owned health facilities can still be accessed.”