Almost four weeks after medical doctors in the employ of Ekiti State Health Management Board (HMB) and the state’s Primary Healthcare Management withdrew their services, there is no sign of an end to the industrial dispute.
This is as organised labour in the state, under the umbrella of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have issued the Governor Kayode Fayemi-led administration a 14-day ultimatum to meet its demands or risk indefinite strike action.
The doctors, under the umbrella of the state’s chapter of the Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioners (AGGMDP), had on June 30, begun the strike over what they described as government’s failure to accede their requests of payment of hazard allowances, rural posting allowances, three-month salary arrears, and implementation of ‘skipping’ policy, among others.
They also complained that less than 75 medical doctors serve the state’s 19 general hospitals and three specialist hospitals, adding that only 12 of their colleagues are in charge of more than 100 primary healthcare centres scattered across the state’s 16 local government areas.
But while other state’s healthcare workers who, also declared a three-day warning strike over similar agitation, have since returned to their duty posts, the doctors have stuck to their guns, insisting that the government can no longer be trusted with ‘empty promises.’
Other healthcare workers under the aegis of the Joint Associations and Unions of Ekiti State Healthcare Workers comprising the state’s chapters of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) and the Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, had on July 3 written the governor to notify of the warning strike.
However, following the government’s resolve to pay N5,000 monthly healthcare hazard allowance beginning from August, the striking workers signed a memorandum of understanding with the government to return to work, hoping all other requests would be favourably considered soon.
But according to the doctors, the hazard allowance was not the basis of the strike and it cannot determine its suspension.
Doctors go spiritual
In a memo to his colleagues on Monday, the chairman of AGGMDP, Kolawole Adeniyi, enjoined them to seek the face of God to intervene in their matter, and cause the government to accede their requests.
According to Mr Adeniyi, the basic requirement for the suspension of the industrial action is the implementation of the ‘skipping’ policy, which he said has been implemented for their colleagues at the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital (EKSUTH).
He said; “As was suggested although unofficially, today is another Monday, let’s not forget to please observe the prayer and fasting for God’s intervention at this very time of challenge. We believe the Almighty God is the giver of every good thing and that He will not look away from the pain of the oppressed by the oppressor.
“We will also like to encourage the house to stand firm and be always ready to engage anyone if the need arises on the reason for our strike and how much we have shifted position enough.
“To serve as a reminder, we hereby highlight below for the record our demands; immediate implementation of financial benefits of promotion up to date; immediate implementation of the remaining 50 per cent of rural posting allowance; immediate payment of teaching allowance; immediate payment of regular hazard allowance; immediate payment of special COVID-19 hazard allowance as contained in the MoU between the federal government, NMA and health workers’ unions.”
The union’s other demands include immediate payment of salary arrears; consequential adjustment of our salaries based on the new minimum wage law; immediate remission of pension deduction, federal mortgage deduction and cooperative deductions till date; immediate implementation of ‘SKIPPING’ with full CONMESS.
“Skipping is the only thing that can alter the equilibrium of the strike in favour of suspension which is one of the nine demands,” the memo further stated, adding that; “We will like to encourage the house that this is a “once in a lifetime” struggle, for the dignity of doctors. It’s beyond cash and selfish interest but for the liberation of all. Let’s fight it to finish, once and for all. And in conclusion, we will want to appreciate the level of compliance to the strike. Nobody gets freedom easily, you fight for it; not on your knees, but standing, sweating and sometimes bleeding.”
NMA blames government
Meanwhile, the state’s chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association has blamed the government for the continued impasse, saying rather than addressing the demands of the striking workers, the government adopted “delay tactics and showed no commitment to resolving the issues.”
In a statement shared with PREMIUM TIMES by its chairman in the state, Tunji Omotayo, NMA confirmed the disparity in the welfare packages of the medical personnel in the employ of HMB and others in EKSUTH and other tertiary healthcare institutions.
The statement reads in part; “The Ekiti State Hospitals’ Management Board (HMB) is responsible for the management of the hospitals and has about 70 doctors to run the 22 specialist and general hospitals. This means an average of three doctors per hospital with some of the hospitals having only one doctor.
“The three specialist hospitals had 15 consultants but are now left with just five. In the primary healthcare system, there are only 12 doctors leaving some local government areas without clinical cover for their PHCs. The secondary healthcare facilities are worst hit with not only external migration of its doctors to other states but also to internal migration to other hospitals in the state where they are attracted to better conditions of service.
“The implication of failure to implement skipping is that doctors will only endure the hostile working conditions in the employment of the HMB until they can secure a more attractive employment elsewhere. This is the reason why the number of doctors under the employment of the HMB will continue to dwindle. And just like ‘skipping,’ only the doctors in the employment of the HMB are not being paid hazard allowance. Unlike other doctors all over the nation, this has not been paid to HMB doctors for over 10 years.”
NMA concluded that the continued strike by its members would only lead to overstretched facilities at the existing tertiary health facilities such as EKSUTH and the federal medical centre in the state.
Meanwhile, the striking doctors, in conjunction with the NMA, are billed to address a media briefing in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital on Friday morning.
An invitation shared with our reporter indicated that it would hold at 10a.m at the union’s secretariat.
Labour unions’ ultimatum
The organised labour in its notice to the state government accused the administration of taking its members for granted, saying since the incumbent administration took over about two years ago, no single demand by the workers has been acceded by the government.
The notice, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES obtained, was signed by the NLC chairman and secretary Olatunde Kolapo and Taiwo Akinyemi respectively; their TUC chairman and secretary counterparts, Sola Adigun and Kuloogun Lawrence respectively, and the JNC chairman and secretary, Kayode Fatomiluyi and Gbenga Olowoyo respectively.
The statement reads in part; “Your Excellency, It is with heavy heart that we considered it as a grave insensitivity and exclusion on the part of the state government to turn blind attention to various outstanding issues which we have highlighted in our not less than six letters to the state government with a particular reference to our recent letter dated 21st May 2020 vide ESOL/EKS/VOL121/85 entitled; “Matters Affecting Workers Welfare in Ekiti State– Need for Urgent Attention to Guarantee Industrial Peace,” which was duly dispatched on the 21st May 2020 to both the office of Mr. Governor and the office of the Head of Service and no official response was received on these various correspondences.
“The organized labour considered it as not only sacrilegious but also unprecedented the non-implementation of financial benefits arising from the letters of promotion given to all deserving workers from years 2015,2016,2017,2018 and 2019 and advancement. For the purpose of hindsight, successive governments in the state since the creation of Ekiti State in 1996 have been implementing promotions in a sequential order and as and when due, for instance and in order to refresh our memory various outstanding promotions for different years especially 2012,2013 and 2014 were implemented without any denial.
“It is unacceptable to the entire workforce for the State Government to jettison the outstanding promotions for the years 2015,2016 and 2017 and contemplate in the implementation of 2018 and 2019 only. Whereas some workers were appointed permanent secretaries and executive secretaries as a result of the above referred years 2015,2016 and 2017 of promotions while other workers were left to groan in pains and inflicted with psychological paralysis.”
The workers also complained of non-payment of outstanding salaries and deductions including three-month gross salaries arrears and five-month deductions for state workers and secondary school teachers; six-month gross salaries and six-month deductions for local government workers and primary School Teachers.
“Your Excellency, arising from the these, the state leadership of the organised labour felt dazed and betrayed by the state government for not reciprocating our patriotic zeal and disposition to the state’s corporate governance by not acceding to any of workers’ demands since the beginning of the lifespan of the present administration which is now close to two years. This is painful! Thus, on the strength of the above, the state government is hereby called upon to implement all the above listed items within the next fourteen days with effect from Monday 20th July, 2020, failure of which workers shall embark on three-day warning strike commencing from the midnight of Monday, August 3, 2020.”
Everything is under control –Government
But in its reaction to the workers’ agitations, the state government has assured the residents of the state that there is no cause for alarm, saying the situation is under control and that all matters will be resolved amicably soon.
Speaking on the phone with our reporter, the senior special adviser to the governor on labour matters, Oluyemi Esan, said the administration is committed to peaceful resolution of all labour-related disputes.
He said the governor is committed to turning around the fortunes of the state but that the period of neglect and paucity of funds have complicated some of the challenges confronting the state.
Mr Esan said; “On the doctors’ matter, the governor has approved the payment of hazard allowance which will kick off this August. We are still studying the skipping policy because we are aware the matter is already in court too. So we are appealing to our brothers to consider the fate of Ekiti people especially at this critical period of Covid-19. This governor is labour-friendly and is prepared to address all issues as soon as the state is buoyant enough.”
When confronted with the fact that the EKSUTH management has implemented the ‘skipping’ policy, Mr Oluyemi said the teaching hospital is autonomous and draws allocation from the state, and “so the HMB cannot be compared with the teaching hospital.”
On the 14-day ultimatum issued by the organised labour, the adviser said the government was supposed to meet with the labour leaders on Wednesday but for some logistics challenges.
“So, we are very sure there will be no strike by organised labour in this state by the grace of God,” he said.