The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors and the Joint Health Sector Union, on Sunday, knocked members of the House of Representatives over plans to outlaw strikes in the health sector.
The bodies described a proposed bill to that effect as draconian and an assault on the democratic rights of employees. The NAN reports that medical doctors and other health workers usually embark on industrial actions, which have crippled the health system in the country.
In 2021, for example, the NARD embarked on a 63-day strike following the failure of the government to address its demands. The National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, Lagos State chapter, is also planning to embark on a strike by January 10 over the failure of the state government to meet its demands.
The bill, which is being sponsored by a member of the House representing Enugu State, Simon Atige, is 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’.
It seeks to amend the principal Act by amending Section 17 of the Trade Disputes Act, 2004 by creating subsection 2, which provides, “Where a trade dispute has been declared by an organisation of medical practitioners employed by or under the government of the federation or of a state or of a local government or any municipal or statutory authority in a government hospital or medical centre or otherwise in the treatment of the sick or the prevention of disease or the minister has received a report of a dispute concerning such an organisation, the organisation may approach the National Industrial Court for a resolution of the dispute provided that at the time of the organisation’s approach to the court, the minister is also notified by the organisation and all processes are served on all the parties.
It will also create a new subsection 3, which states, “Subject to the requirement of fair hearing, the National Industrial Court may abridge procedures and time stipulations for the purpose of a speedy resolution of the dispute.”
The proposed law will only apply to medical professionals in government employment. Section 49 (3) of the proposed law states, “This Act shall apply to any medical practitioner employed by or under the government of the federation or of a state or of a local government or any municipal or statutory authority in a government hospital or medical centre or otherwise in the treatment of the sick or the prevention of disease, but no such medical practitioner shall embark on an industrial action.”
But the National President of NARD, Dr Godiya Ishaya, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said that the move by the lawmakers was against the rights of workers to express their grievances.
He said, “This move is against the rights of workers to express their grievances with peaceful negotiation and as a last resort, embarking on industrial action. The right to strike is a universal democratic right of all employees, regardless of where they are employed – private or public sector.
“Industrial actions or strikes are not embarked upon over nothing; there are issues that lead to them. The House of Representatives should first promulgate laws that prohibit the government from reneging on several agreements it enters into with health workers.
“Also, there should be laws to prevent the government from delays in payment of salaries, promotion and payment of entitlements of workers. They should make laws that make it mandatory to improve the infrastructure of our hospitals and ensure the availability of consumables at all times.
“Anything short of these as a prerequisite to the law to prohibit strikes by health workers means the government wants to arm-twist, gag and turn health workers in Nigeria into slaves and lame ducks. The result of this will only be a spike in the already enormous exodus of health workers to other countries with better service conditions, where the efforts, abilities and expertise of Nigerian health workers are better appreciated.”
On his part, the spokesman for JOHESU and an executive member of AHPA, Olumide Akintayo, noted that the bill was draconian and an assault on the freedom of expression of the health workers.
Akintayo lamented why the lawmakers would waste taxpayers’ resources on bills meant to trample on the rights of Nigerians.
He said, “This is a tool of the Federal Government to stop strikes in the health sector. Instead of creating a system where workers do not have to go on strikes, you want to trample on their rights to express their grievances.
“This is draconian and it is an assault on the rights of workers. Lawmakers do not understand the privileges of democracy. It is a shame that legislators, who are meant to sympathise with Nigerians as representatives of the people, are the ones coming up with such policies; when they get there, they develop selective amnesia and waste taxpayers’ resources.
“How can you say we should not go on strike? There is freedom of speech and expression; you cannot create a law to stop strikes; what you should do is to make sure that you create a working system where people see no reason to embark on strikes.”