For Better welfare package
The Medical Guild, the umbrella body for all medical doctors employed by the Lagos State Government, met at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) on Monday, 20th of April 2009 and signified its intention to resume another round of strike action to pursue its demand at the expiration of a ten-day ultimatum to the Lagos State Government.
Better welfare package; Against victimisation
These demands are: better welfare package with the immediate implementation of an improved salary structure based on the CONTISS Salary Scale, which has already been implemented by the Federal Government and a number of states in the federation since January 2007. CONTISS is expected to enhance the salaries by almost 50% across the board for all health workers. The demands of the Medical Guild also include better working environment in the hospitals, particularly with regard to having conducive consulting rooms, clinics, operating theaters etc as against the present unpalatable situation of doctors “taking call-duties in filthy, unhygienic, ramshackle rooms and hospitals still largely being run in darkness, clinics run in hot rooms with equipment in various states of dilapidation”.
Other major demands are the immediate reinstatement of the Medical Guild Chairman, Dr Ibrahim Olaifa, who was recently dismissed from service because of his union activities, especially for addressing press conferences on the doctors’ agitation and immediate stoppage of all forms of harassment and victimization of the Guild officials/activists.
The Guild is to meet immediately at the same venue after the expiration of the ultimatum to determine the mode of operation of the next round of agitations.
It will be recalled that the leadership of the Medical Guild prompted the congress to suspend the last round of strike action on the 7th of January 2009 even when the Lagos State Government was yet to meet any of the outlined demands of the strike on the understanding that the demands will be met within three months of suspending the strike action.
Divide and destroy tactics
The opposite has however been the case for almost four months after suspending the strike action. Instead of implementing the demands of the doctors, the government, through the Lagos State Health Service Commission and the office of the Head of Service (HOS), commenced various actions aimed at undermining the potent power of the Medical Guild. The first in the series of attack is the issuance of query letters to all doctors that took part in the 3-day strike action, the letters were later withdrawn after the Guild protested.
The next line of attack on the Medical Guild was a Government-aided campaign to divide and destroy the Guild by propping up the lame opposition earlier defeated in the last year’s election of the Guild to write a petition on which the government acted by denying further recognition of the Medical Guild officials. Furthermore, the state government ordered the stoppage of deduction and remittance of union dues from doctors’ salaries to the Guild bank accounts.
It was on this background that the final straw that broke the camel back was unveiled with the sacking of the Chairman of the Medical Guild, Ibrahim Olaifa. He was dismissed on the premise that as a civil servant, he was under bond not to talk to the Press, which he did during the last doctors’ agitation, even when this became incidental to his function as the official leader of the doctors’ union, an affiliate of the Nigerian Medical Association. All these attempts are obviously aimed at weakening the doctors’ resolve to agitate further for a better welfare package and a conducive working environment.
Deceit from Lagos state government
One important lesson to be learnt from the above is the fact that there is no alternative to relying on the potent force of the association/union’s members on the agitation for the union’s demands. As an example, the initial expectation and trust of the leadership of the Medical Guild placed on certain individuals close to the Lagos State Government which led to the suspension of the January strike has amounted to nothing but serious disappointment and lamentation. The intervention by these individuals which included former Governor Bola Tinubu, former Commissioners, Traditional rulers, Religious leaders etc has proven to be a fluke after all.
On the face value, this present anti-democratic, antic and deceit is worse coming from a so called Liberal AC-Government, who has shamelessly come up to say that a workers’ leader, like Dr Ibrahim Olaifa, can not speak up on behalf of its members against perceived injustice. What a contradiction coming from the ‘leading apostles’ of rule of law and constitutional rights.
Victory is assured
Moreover, such cry-out is inevitable with doctors working for Lagos State Government, who, like other health workers, face unprecedented volume of clinical-related work daily in the most populous city in sub- Saharan Africa and yet are among the worst paid in the country.
It is only by relying on the strength of the members of the Medical Guild that victory will be certain in the next round of agitations. This should involve patient mobilization of all the units and clarifying issues with the ranks of the association and the public in general. With this method victory is assured.