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Unethical and Unlawful Suspension of Public Health Workers

Madi Jobarteh, Human Rights Actvist.

By Madi Jobarteh

This letter from the Personnel Management Office approving the suspension of 371 public health workers for two months without salary is unlawful, unethical and a violation of the rights of these workers. I call on all members of the association of public health workers to solidarize with their suspended colleagues that either everyone returns to work with full pay, or no one goes to work. It is your right to belong to an association and to engage in collective bargaining.

I wish to bring to the attention of the Gambia Government that they have ratified eight of the ten conventions of the International Labour Organization that protect workers’ rights and their right to organize. Three of these conventions guarantee the right to organize and to enjoy equal pay. These three are the ILO Convention No. 87 which protects the freedom of association and protection of the right to organize. The second is ILO Convention No. 88 which also guarantees the right to organize and collective bargaining, and the third is the ILO Convention No. 100 which guarantees the right to equal remuneration.

Therefore, by virtue of these international laws, the Gambia Government is under international obligation to respect and protect the rights of workers who engage in industrial action. Furthermore, the Constitution, in protecting civil servants, states in Section 169(1) that no public servants shall “be removed from office or reduced in rank or otherwise punished without just cause.” The action by PMO is a punishment without a just cause which is contrary to the Constitution.

This suspension is unconstitutional since these public health workers, having formed an association to promote and protect their welfare and rights, have a right to engage in any lawful action that will bring them benefits. The Constitution, in Section 25 states that every citizen has a right to form or join an association or unions. This is precisely what these health workers did. There is nowhere in the Constitution which states that civil servants cannot engage in collective bargaining.

Therefore, the Gambia Government is bound by both domestic and international law to respect and protect the rights of these health workers. This means a responsible Government would deploy all of its resources to negotiate with the association until they reach an agreement.

In that case, the Gambia Government has no power to use force on this association or its members. Unfortunately, this is precisely what the PMO is doing. The PMO is using force to force these workers to go to work which tantamount to trampling on their right to association and collective bargaining as well as forcing them into work. Forced labour is prohibited by the Gambia Constitution under Section 20.

Overall, what the PMO is doing should concern each and every worker in the Gambia because they are blatantly saying that workers cannot and should not join associations or unions and engage in collective bargaining. If this action by the PMO stands then every worker faces a threat one day if you wish to express your disagreement with your working conditions since your employer can dismiss or suspend and reduce your salary or refuse to pay it altogether. This means that the PMO’s illegal decision is also against the workers’ right to freedom of opinion and expression because by threatening them means the PMO wants to silence workers.

It is rather unfortunate and indeed worrying that as the Vice President recently said he wanted to see system change and an efficient civil service, yet under his watch the PMO is using violence and force to silence workers and violate their rights with impunity. The new Minister for Civil Service promised a better civil service based on transparency and accountability yet under his watch such illegal and unethical action is taking place.

One would have expected that both the Vice President and the Minister for Civil Service would have acted long since to address this matter and not to allow it to fester for months now. It will be hugely disappointing if the VP and Minister for Civil Service would these old ways of threats and violence against workers to emerge ever again in this country. It must be recognized that when employers use force and violence against workers it goes to undermine professionalism, efficiency, discipline, and performance of workers because no one does well under duress.

The claims by the public health workers are legitimate claims and the Gambia Government has the means and capacity to address them, yet they are failing to do so and on time but now using force and threats against workers. I call on all citizens to demand that the Government fulfils its obligation to its workers and stop using force and violence.

For the Gambia Our Homeland

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