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NLC, Health Workers Knock Bill TO Outlaw Strike

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NLC, Health Workers Knock Bill TO Outlaw Strike
NLC, Health Workers Knock Bill TO Outlaw Strike

Moves by the National Assembly to outlaw strike in the health sector through a bill has been condemned by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), Assembly of Healthcare Professionals (AHPA) and the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

They described the bill, which has passed its first reading in the House of Representatives, as draconian.

The bill, titled: “An Act to amend the Trade Disputes Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to prohibit medical practitioners in the employment of federal, state and local governments in the essential service sectors from embarking on strikes and to accelerate administrative and judicial proceedings in the determination of trade disputes involving them and related matters”, is sponsored by a member of the House representing Enugu State, Simon Atige.

The NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said the bill was laughable, stressing that it is a misplaced priority for any legislator without the requisite knowledge of the global standard set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to propose such a law.

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According to him, the issue of labour generally in all jurisdictions is represented by the ILO through conventions and treaties, particularly in the issue of strike in any sector of the economy.

Ayuba said, “In compilation 751 of the document, it states clearly that the right of workers to strike constitute a fundamental right of workers and their organisation especially unions and it is used as means of defending the economic and social rights and interests of those workers. So it’s a global principle. A strike aimed at increase in wages and payment of wage arrears clearly falls within the scope of the legitimacy of the trade union activities. This is compilation 769.

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“On the issue of essential service, by the ILO global standard, only air traffic controllers are assumed strictly in its sense as essential service and that is why the word ‘may’ have been used in other sectors, particularly the health sector. No sector can exclusively be said to be essential service outside the air traffic control. This is what is posited by the ILO standard.

“It is laughable, where industrial relations are working optimally, strikes can be avoided and therefore, this is the provision of the law and I am sure that those proposing the bill are not aware of those laws, and those laws are very explicit.”

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Also, the president, Medical and Health Workers Union and the national president of JOHESU, Biobelemonye Josiah, told LEADERSHIP that any bill that is seeking to stop workers from embarking on strike is draconian, adding that it is only reminiscent of the military regime.

Josiah noted that “At least the military in their time passed a law which gave the right to workers to strike and I don’t think that is a good development for the civilian administration. That means it is even falling below the worst standard of the military. Those we have asked to represent us, that is the national assembly is the house of the people and then if the people decide to gag the session of the people, then I think it is not fair. Now even the military law, we are saying it is not fair because it allowed workers to be on strike but it said workers should not be paid, that in itself is not fair because it does not have consequences for the employer who fails in implementing what he had agreed to do. Even though that was done in a military regime, this administration which is a civilian administration ought to have corrected that error by dispensing a penalty for employers who refuse to adhere to agreements legitimately entered into.”

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In the same vein, the convener of AHPA, Comrade Olumide Akintayo, noted that what binds Nigeria is the 1999 constitution, and that section 42 A&B of that constitution prohibits discrimination in whatever way to citizens of the federal republic of Nigeria, be it gender, social cultural, religious, professional and whatever.

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He said, “You say people in other sectors can go on strike when they feel that their rights are being trampled on then you say people in the health sector should not go on strike, there is nowhere that one happens, you cannot do that, it is discriminatory and you cannot come up with a law or an act of parliament that is contrary to constitutional imperative in this case, the provision of section 42 A and B.

“I think this bill is dead on arrival. If it gets to the senate, I think the senate should not be concurrent to that type of irresponsible bill. “

Akintayo told LEADERSHIP that the country has a health system that is rated 187 out of 191 health systems globally, which shows that everything is wrong with that health system and “you will not want people to protest or oppose the very structure that have made it possible for you to be number 187 out of 191 on the ranking table?”

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Also, NARD president, Godiya Ishaya, said the bill will erode the final negotiating tool for workers since it has been proven over time that the government always failed to fulfill their own part of the agreement.

He told LEADERSHIP that the person proposing the bill is either being emotional or something has happened to him or his relations during one of those strikes. He noted that the person was championing a bill in a very wrong direction.

Ishaya said he would have wished that the person championing the bill would champion a bill that will make the government attend to whatever agreement they have entered with the health professionals. He added that if there was a bill mandating all those occupying public offices never to travel abroad with the public fund, there would be more attention to the health sector in Nigeria. He said most of those responsible for fulfilling or exhibiting the agreement have a lackadaisical attitude because they believe they are affected by the poor health system directly. “That has largely been the reason why most of the agreements are not being attended to.”

He decried the fact that the bill is only gagging the health sector. “So, what is the person proposing for the health workers to benefit from, nothing? It is only one sided, that is one of the problems that has affected the country, we always look at issues with emotion.”

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