A group of lawyers from various countries known as the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) Network, has called on the Nigerian government to implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with trade unions in the health sector, including the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).

The lawyers, in a letter dated September 24, 2021 and addressed to Nigeria’s ministers of labour and employment, and health, Chris Ngige and Osagie Ehanire respectively, expressed their concerns over the poor treatment of doctors and other health workers in Nigeria.

The group also accused the government of violating the striking doctors’ freedom to associate and justly demand fair treatment and improved welfare.

Concerns

In the letter, the lawyers said the government has failed to begin the implementation process of all agreements signed with the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), as well as three other affiliates in the health sector..

The letter reads in part; “Beginning in August 2021, thousands of NARD members resumed their strike over long unpaid salaries, hazardous working conditions in hospitals, and insufficient hazard pay.

“Indeed, some doctors have not been paid or paid their full salaries since the COVID-19 pandemic began over a year ago.

“Further, the failure of the government to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect healthcare workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), has already led to the death of almost two dozen NARD members.”

‘Nigerian doctors not alone’

The lawyers said healthcare workers across other nations have also had to down tools at one time or the other to protest poor welfare conditions, among other issues.

The letter further reads in part; “NARD members are not alone in resorting to collective action, as doctors and nurses in several other countries have also gone on strike, including in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Israel, South Korea, Spain, Peru and the United States.

“As in Nigeria, these healthcare workers protested unsafe working conditions (including the lack of PPE), poor salaries, inadequate government responses to the pandemic and the overall failure to properly resource healthcare systems.”

The lawyers said different MOUs signed had specific deadlines for implementation, including the payment of salary arrears, payment to the medical residency training fund, and a “no victimisation” clause.

It, however, said the Nigerian government failed to meet those deadlines.



Right to freedom

The lawyers noted that the industrial court’s judgment ordering all doctors back to work fails to address the doctor’s concerns.

It said workers have the right to freedom of association and to organise, to bargain collectively, and to strike under Nigerian law.

“On September 17, the National Industrial Court granted an interlocutory injunction suspending the strike and ordering all doctors back to work.

“The Court cited the potential harm of the strike on public health and left the doctors’ concerns to be addressed at an undefined later date,” it said.

The network explained that NARD members are on strike because of lack of payment of wages and failure to provide a safe workplace, all of which are clearly protected objectives for a strike.

It urged the federal government to fully implement all outstanding MOUs without further delay and to ensure the doctors resume work.

NARD strike

Resident doctors across public health facilities in Nigeria have been on strike for 53 days. The doctors cited several reasons, including delays in the payment of their salaries and allowances.

The strike coincided with a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country, leaving many worried that it could have serious consequences for the battle against the third wave of the pandemic.

NARD is demanding amongst other issues the payment of COVID-19 treatment allowances in the absence of death-in-service insurance, having lost over a dozen of its members to the pandemic, while also protesting the shortage of manpower in public hospitals.

At the root of the strike action is the government’s constant failure to honour the agreements reached with NARD over its demands.

A meeting last month between the leaders of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), NARD, and government representatives also failed to resolve the issues after the striking doctors backed out at the last minute.

Despite the National Industrial Court (NIC) ordering members of NARD to return to their duty posts, the doctors vowed to continue the strike until all demands are met.

The NMA, the Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) and the Medical and Dental Doctors in Academics (MEDSABAM) are also threatening to commence strike if the government fails to resolve the pending issues.

About ILAW

The group claims it unites over 670 workers’ rights lawyers from over 70 countries, including Nigeria.

The ILAW Network is currently a project of the Solidarity Centre, a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation affiliated to the AFL-CIO and which is dedicated to the promotion of workers’ rights worldwide.

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