By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
The Director General of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), Salihu Moh Lukman, has asked the Federal Government to initiate a legislation that will forbid and prescribe sanctions against health workers who embark on strike actions.
In a statement issued yesterday by Lukman with the title ‘Labour Issues and Need for Reorientation in Nigeria’, the DG said need for this law barring industrial action by health workers, has become expedient given the huge number of unfortunate and avoidable deaths which strikes usually left on its trail.
In the statement, PGF DG said “The frequent strikes by Resident Doctors and health workers generally are unfortunate and avoidable and always lead to preventable deaths of patients in the country.
“Given the cost to human life from strikes by health workers, it is quite alarming that strike actions in a sector as important as health would be taking place at all.
“This is a sector that by every standard should be classified as essential, based on which there should be special legal restrictions regarding labour actions such as strikes.
“Healthcare, utility services such as electricity and water supply, law enforcement, firefighting and food services are all categorised both by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations (UN) as essential services.”
He said being categorised as essential services does not prevent workers in the sector from being organised under a trade union, adding that the existence of a union should be mainly for the purpose of collective bargaining to improve the working conditions of workers and negotiate higher wages.
He further pointed out that the existence of trade unions in these sectors should rather ensure that collective bargaining promotes the growth and competitiveness in the sector, so that they can expand employment opportunities, productivity and wages.
Querying why operations of essential service sectors like health could be reduced to normal operations associated with other lesser sectors whose activities doesn’t pose any direct threat to human life, Lukman said “Part of the questions that cannot be ignored, will be the issue of both the legal and institutional frameworks for collective bargaining in Nigeria.
“Is it a case of gaps in Nigeria’s labour laws such that operations of essential service sectors could be reduced to normal operations associated with other lesser sectors whose activities do not pose any direct threat to human life? Or is it a case that there is the necessary legal framework but weak institutional capacity for both enforcement of the laws and regulations of the conducts of both employers and employees in sectors classified as essential services?
“One of the things that must be acknowledged is that Nigeria has all the needed laws and perhaps the most progressive labour laws in the world. These are provided under the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended, Trade Union Act, Labour (Employment) Act, Factory Act, Workmen’s Compensation Act, Trade Disputes (Essential Services) Act, etc.
“Procedural rules and regulations governing workplaces, including negotiations between employers and employees are provided. Specifically, ILO Convention 98, which guarantees the right to organise and bargain collectively is ratified under the Trade Unions Act. Provisions of the Act, Cap 437 Section 24:l, guarantees unconditional recognition of trade unions by employers.
“One of the things that can be deduced is that the practice of collective bargaining between workers’ and employers’ organisations is not restricted to unions registered under the law, which is why professional organisations such as NARD could negotiate and enter into agreements that are binding on work organisations where their members are employed”.
The PGF DG, regretted that before August 2nd, when the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) began an indefinite nationwide strike, they were on strike over the same issues less than four months back. He said there are estimated 16,800 resident doctors in Nigeria, which represent about 40% of the total (42,000) registered doctors in the country, hence, they are a very critical pillar of healthcare delivery services in hospitals whose absence always results in shutting down hospitals across the country.
To this end, he argued that the major issue with Nigeria’s labour relations may have to do with issues of over centralisation and institutional capacity to manage, regulate and facilitate negotiations and agreements.
He pointed out that the issue of over centralisation will continue to create challenges largely because the negotiation between workers’ and employers’ organisations are no longer informed by empirical reality of resources available, but the mindset of contest hinged on the belief by leaders and members of workers union that resources are being diverted by political leaders and that Government has all the resources.