Sack of striking doctors in Lagos
Friday May 11, 2012
The decision by the Lagos State Government to sack 788 medical doctors in the State public service was the height of a month-long industrial action embarked upon by the doctors under the umbrella of The Medical Guild.
The striking doctors were demanding, among other things, a 100 percent implementation of the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale (CONMESS) and what they called “questionable taxation” by the state authorities. Negotiations between the state government and the Medical Guild to call off the strike which began April 6, could not resolve the issues in contention.
Matters however got to a head last Sunday when a statement from the Head of Service (HOS) announced to the surprise of many, the sack of the 788 doctors. Of the affected number, 316 of them were in the employ of the State University Teaching Hospital, while the remaining 472 were working in other hospitals across the state.
Explaining the acts leading to the decision of the government, the HOS in the state said the government took the action because negotiation on the issues in contention were still ongoing when the doctors began the strike. The government also explained that its decision was necessitated by the refusal of the doctors to answer queries issued to them to explain their absence from work without leave, and in disregard to rules and regulations guiding strikes in the public service. The government had earlier described the strike as “illegal and a blackmail”, and had vowed to invoke the relevant provisions of the Trade Dispute Act if the doctors refused to call off the strike. Hundreds of patients seeking healthcare in the state hospitals have suffered untold hardship since the strike began. Tens of patients have reportedly died because of lack of doctors to attend to them.
However, we oppose the decision to sack the striking doctors, no matter how ill advised and self-serving their demands were. Indeed, their sack is an overkill, very draconian and an ill wind that might have far reaching repercussions beyond Lagos State if it is allowed to stand. In that regard, we urge the state government to rescind the sack order and commence a forthright negotiation with the striking doctors on all the issues in dispute. The doctors, on their part, should call off the strike immediately and return to the negotiation table. Dialogue should be given a prime place in such a sticky matter because lives of patients are involved and should be taken into consideration above other things.
However, the doctors need reminding once again that certain things must precede industrial action. In this connection, the doctors must be aware of their Hypocratic oath to which they all swore. This forbids them from withholding medical care from patients in need of their services. We had earlier advised the doctors before the strike began on this onerous professional responsibility and the need to place greater premium on human life. Sadly, they ignored this timely advice. All the same, monetary gains should not stand in the way of the health of patients. It has become expedient to remind the aggrieved doctors that even though they deserve good pay and the compliment of their entitlements, for the very vital role they play in health delivery, their work will be more appreciated if, despite certain limitations, they show good understanding and exemplary conduct in their demands and duties.
Above all, the Lagos State Government should not be high-handed in the treatment of the doctors. There must be give-and-take in the dialogue towards resolving the knotty issues that led to the strike. Of crucial importance is for the state government to fulfill its own part of the agreement entered into with the doctors. In the last one month that the strike has been on, essential services in the public hospitals in the state have been paralyzed. This should not be allowed to drag further. Our message to the two parties is simple: let wise counsel prevail.