Feature

Sanwo-Olu: I’ve paid all healthworkers’ allowances

Being the text of Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo- Olu’s address on Tuesday explaining issues that led to a three-day strike by the Lagos chapter of Medical Guild

 

All health workers’ allowances approved, paid We are in Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Yaba and you journalists have asked me question around the ongoing warning strike by doctors and health workers.

 

One of the first things we need to understand is the responsibility of the Government to cater for the welfare of all workers.

 

I have met with health workers in this Infectious Disease Hospital and I asked about their wellbeing; they are said they were doing fine.

 

I have the overall responsibility to ensure that all the State’s entire workforce, be it in the public or private sector, are doing well. I also have the responsibility to ensure lives of all residents and their property are secured.

 

This is paramount to us. The media would agree with me that in the last 412 days we have come on board, security and welfare of the people have been part of our guiding principles

 

And we will keep doing that as we go along. However, disputes are also natural in human relationship.

 

People might see things differently from the way others do see it. Personally, I am not upset about the warning strike embarked on by the Medical Guild.

 

The action is not anything to grieve about; it is really all around communication and understanding. You will understand things when you see knowledge, and wisdom will also come in when you seek knowledge.

 

These are key guiding principles. The issues of disagreement are very simple; it is because of lack of adequate communication. The first thing they said is that, we owe some workers hazard allowances.

 

For the benefit of the public, our Government is the first, in March, that started paying hazard allowance to our entire health workers, almost 20,000 of them.

 

We increased the hazard allowance by 400 per cent and this is verifiable. Lagos is the first to do this. All the entire health workers – doctors, nurse, drivers, hygienists – got a 400 per cent on hazard allowance as enumerated in their payment structure.

 

Above that, we realised we needed to give additional incentive to frontline workers specifically engaged in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. This is called COVID-19 allowance, which is outside their regular salaries and hazard allowances.

 

The COVID-19 allowance is for over 1,000 medical officers and other auxiliary workers in all of our isolation centres.

 

On this additional allowance, I do not need to consult with anybody.

 

It is something I felt it was needed. Lagos is the first in the country to create this additional allowance and we are doing it not because we wanted to show off.

 

We realised Lagos is the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic and I think we should show leadership and commitment to all our frontline staff. So, we created that allowance and paid it.

 

So, as we go along, we needed to review our strategy, because our strategy at that time when we created the COVID-19 allowance was to contain the pandemic before it would get to the communities. So, we paid the allowance, which, in my view and everyone’s view, was roof-top. We actually paid people allowances that were like twice of their monthly salaries.

 

We had thought COVID-19 is a pandemic we would resolve within one or two months. So, we created the allowance as motivation for everyone on the frontline.

 

However, all of us have seen that this pandemic has grown from being a street run to a marathon. So, we needed to have a change in strategy. Part of the strategies is to keep all allowances to what we will feel comfortable to pay.

 

Just last month, we paid allowances. However, we feel we need to do proper enumeration on the COVID-19 allowance.

 

We needed to ensure that people that will get the COVID-19 allowance are people that have worked during the period of  COVID-19 and those that have worked in one or all of our isolation centres.

 

So, we had a two-month delay, meaning that we have paid two months, but we have not paid May and June.

 

The only reason for this is that, we want to be sure the right people get paid this COVID-19 allowance. As I speak, most have them have gotten the allowance for two months arrears.

 

The amount the Government pays as COVID-19 allowance is at my discretion and it is even still more than what the Federal Government pays. But this is not a competition.

 

Disagreement on tax issues The other concern of the health workers is taxes. Tax is a component of the law of the federation. However, I have been hearing about excess tax since I was Commissioner for Establishment. Medical workers have been complaining that they are taxed more than necessary.

 

At that time, the Lagos Inland Revenue Service (LIRS) chairman solved those problems. The salaries of medical workers have since been improved since that time. Maybe the issue now is that, they still feel their salary is small.

 

Taxation and salary deduction is a function of the law and there are things that are allowable and things not allowable. Even at that, we said let’s further look at the salary and asked about the amount of tax can the Government place on the salary of a medical officer.

 

At best, maybe it is N5,000, N7,000 or N8,000 they are talking about. But we agreed that we will meet with the chairman of LIRS and sit with him to look at what we can do. I cannot take unilateral decision on tax. It is the Federal Government’s law.

 

The review cannot be at the whims and caprices of myself or anybody; any action to be taken on that must follow the law.

 

And the independent body called LIRS has the responsibility to look at the issue and give us what is applicable and what is not applicable.

 

Doctors’ Residential Quarters With all the best intention, we have two developers we have commissioned to build accommodation for health workers.

 

Even if we start today, the minimum period we can deliver such project is 24 months.

 

To build an accommodation is not something you can just tell me do within a short period. In this premises we are now (IDH), there is a plan to develop Doctors’ Quarters.

 

There is an international company that has said they want to work with us to build a hospital. I told them what we urgently need is Doctors’ Accommodation. As I speak to you, the design of the project is coming up.

 

Same thing is happening in Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH); we have a private sector firm we are already talking to.

 

We have agreed to build Doctors’ Quarters for the health workers, but it is not something that will happen in a day. Space has to be aligned, designs have to be done and funds have to be

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