Socialist Labour congratulates the doctors, members of NARD, for their steadfastness and tenacity in maintaining their strike since 2nd August 2021. We admire the way that they have stood up against the insults and threats from the government. They provide important lessons for the wider trade union movement. NARD deserves support and solidarity from all trade unionists. We will all benefit from improved funding for the public health service if the doctors win their demands. In addition, they also face the frequent threat of “no work – no pay”.
The NARD strike is solid and most patients are being turned back from the 52 Federal Health Institutions and Teaching Hospitals across the Federation.
Socialist Labour supports the call from the other health workers of JOHESU for an indefinite strike from this Friday, 17th September. The JOHESU trade union leaders may have been too cautious in calling this long overdue strike. They appear to have gained little in the limited negotiations the Government has allowed over the last year. As with many other trade union disputes, the Government has still failed to implement its agreement with JOHESU that led to the suspension of their one-week strike last September. We hope that JOHESU will stand by its promised strike this time.
The Government has a clear policy of not implementing agreements it has willingly signed with trade union leaders. The Government regularly signs agreements and then fails to implement the trade union demands. Most of the strikes in Nigeria in recent years have been as a result of this policy. So trade unions, especially in the health and education sectors, go on strike, sign an agreement with the Government and suspend their strike. The Government then takes little or no action and eventually the trade unions have to return to strike action. This was the case with the nine month strike by the university lecturers last year, the health workers of JOHESU and the current strike by the doctors of NARD, amongst many other cases.
Resolute strike action appears to be the only language that the Government understands. Trade unions have to frighten the Government to ensure that their demands are actually implemented. This happened, for example, with the general strike in Kaduna state in May. A united and determined general strike, if only for three days, changed the State Government’s attitude to paying redundancy entitlements.
The doctors of NARD are demanding payment of salary arrears, an increase in their hazard allowance, proper insurance for doctors that die in service, payment of training funds from the last three years, improvements to doctors training schemes and enhanced salary scales. None of these demands are new. The Government agreed to all of them in April of this year when NARD suspended its last strike. JOHESU has a similar list of demands that again the Government agreed to a year ago.
The doctors’ hazard allowance has remained a paltry N5000 for over 30 years. The Senators in contrast have a monthly hardship allowance of over forty million naira. Only one of the families of the 19 doctors that died of Covid-19 has actually been paid. These insults explain why a recent survey found that over 80% of trainee doctors plan to leave Nigeria when they qualify.
In addition, the Government has threatened the doctors with stopping their pay during the strike with the so called “no work – no pay” policy. This is an important issue for all trade unionists and is a direct incentive for them to support the NARD strike.
The core issue relating to the strikes in the health and education sectors is the consistent underfunding of these sectors by governments of both the PDP and the APC. In his 2015 manifesto Buhari claimed: “I will increase national health expenditure per person per annum to about N50,000 (from the less than N10,000 currently)”. According to the World Bank, health expenditure per capita actually reduced from “US$98 in 2015, to US$79 in 2016, and US$74 in 2017”. For 2021 Buhari proposed less than N2,750 per person in the Federal budget. Far from increasing expenditure on health, every budget since 2016 has spent less than the 2015 budget in real terms.
As a result, Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of new-born deaths in Africa and general health statistics are worse than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. At least 124 children per 1,000 die before their fifth birthday, making Nigeria’s under-five mortality one of the highest worldwide. “Every day, approximately 2,300 under-five-year-olds and 145 women of childbearing age die in Nigeria. These deaths are mostly preventable.” (BudgIT, 2018). In addition, many easily preventable diseases like malaria, typhoid and cholera kill thousands of people each year.
If NARD, JOHESU and the wider trade union movement worked together they could force the Government to end this chronic underfunding of the public health sector. The failure of the labour movement to provide support or solidarity for the NARD doctors’ strike is literally killing many of its members.
Socialist Labour calls for full support and solidarity for the strike by the doctors of NARD. We congratulate them for their action so far and call on them to continue the strike until the Government actually implements their just demands. We call on JOHESU to implement its promised strike from this Friday. We also call on the wider trade union movement to prepare to take the necessary solidarity action to win this dispute that is vital for all our lives. Now is the correct time for the university lecturers of ASUU to return to strike action.
Socialist Labour also calls on the branches and other units of the wider trade union movement to send messages of support to the striking health workers. Trade union delegations should also be arranged to visit local hospitals and health centres.
Victory to the strike by the doctors of NARD!
JOHESU to proceed with its promised strike!
Support and solidarity from the labour movement!
United strike action will improve health care for all of us!
Biodun Olamosu, National Secretary, Socialist Labour