West Africa Union Health Care Rights Campaign Celebrates Nigeria Health Care Funding Boost

West Africa Union Health Care Rights Campaign Celebrates Nigeria Health Care Funding Boost

A regional health care rights campaign led by the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) saw some success in Nigeria this month, where the federal government announced a disbursement of almost $70 million to bolster the country’s health infrastructure.

The funds will be delivered through the country’s Basic Health Care Provision Fund, which delivers essential but often out-of-reach health care service to Nigeria’s citizens–more than 90 percent of whom work uncertain, poorly paid informal jobs.

“We celebrate with our Nigerian partners and will continue to support unions that are demanding more investment by governments in the health of their citizens,” says Solidarity Center Africa Regional Program Director Christopher Johnson.

In Nigeria, where out-of-pocket health care payments were reportedly among the highest in the world in 2023, the campaign is supported by the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and labor federations Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC).

In the region, OTUWA’s “Health Care Is a Human Right” campaign is supported by OTUWA’s affiliates together with many of their health-sector unions. A 2020 survey of 700 health workers living in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo provides a window into the region’s health-sector shortcomings and presents a raft of recommendations for ensuring the protection of health worker rights and effective, accessible health care for all.

OTUWA’s “Health Care Is a Human Right” campaign, launched in Abuja in March 2021, unites OTUWA affiliates in a fight for equal and fair health care access for all who live within the ECOWAS region. The campaign includes collection of health data and advocacy with national and continent-wide African Union legislators and policymakers.

The region’s signatory governments are required by ECOWAS Fundamental Principles to promote and protect human rights in accordance with the African Union (AU) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights—including provision of social protections such as health care.

Like many other African countries, Nigeria’s government is struggling to provide essential services to its citizens in the context of mounting national debt and illicit financial flows. Curbing multinational tax dodging, government corruption and other criminal activity is essential, say unions, because doing so could cut by almost half the $200 billion annual financing gap for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The 2023 SDG report noted that 381 million people, or almost 5 percent of the world’s population, were pushed into extreme poverty in 2019 by out-of-pocket health expenditures.

OTUWA represents trade union national centers in the 15 West African countries comprising the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).



Marking this year’s Earth Day, the Solidarity Center is launching a new video about Bangladesh tannery workers’ campaign for safer, healthier and greener jobs. Available in English and Bangla, the video provides a window into one of the country’s most dangerous jobs and demonstrates how the tannery sector sits at the intersection of the worker rights and environmental justice movements.

Bangladesh’s leather sector, which satisfies one-tenth of world demand and whose exports of leather and leather goods totaled $1.1 billion in 2022, profits from a model that relies on low wages, lax workplace safety and unchecked environmental degradation. Its processes involve a stew of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals. Left untreated or flushed into waterways or surrounding areas, as happened in Hazaribagh, Dhaka, for decades, these substances pollute the environment, sicken workers and the local population, contaminate the air and water sources, and make food production dangerous. In Savar Tannery Industrial Estate in Hemayetpur—to which the government in 2017 ordered approximately 25,000 tannery workers and their families to move amid increasing international pressure regarding Hazaribagh’s toxic environmental and working conditions—factory sludge and effluents are not being effectively treated and new environmental threats are being created.

Meanwhile Bangladesh is one of the most acutely climate-impacted countries, with cyclones, flooding and extreme heat increasingly common. Around the world and in Bangladesh, climate change hits the poorest and most marginalized communities hardest. Worsening climate change, combined with environmental degradation in the workplace and surrounding communities, have compounding impacts on workers and their families.

A recent Solidarity Center survey of tannery workers living in Hemayetpur illustrates how the impact of industrial pollution, harsh working conditions and low wages is leaving workers, their families and their communities increasingly vulnerable to serious health issues and more frequent climate-related shocks in the country.

Workers said they have suffered exposure to fire or electric shock, falling, cutting, broken bones, heavy objects falling on them, contact with acid or chemicals, and inhalation of chemical fumes or gas. Health issues diminish workers’ earnings—which workers said were insufficient for covering basic needs. At the same time, costs have skyrocketed, including for transportation, which is made more challenging when regular waterlogging and flooding make roads impassable.

Local communities have reported that they are afraid or unable to grow food or catch fish, and note that just breathing the polluted air is enough to ruin their appetite. Poor water quality, meanwhile, adds to the burden of women’s care work, and more women than men mentioned now having to spend more time collecting water and doing so from greater distances.

“We used to cook with the water of [the] river. I used to bathe in the river. But we cannot do anything with the river water now,” a woman community member affected by the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate told the Solidarity Center last year.

With Workers, Toward a Safer, Greener, More Fair Industry

Because workers best understand the hazards and solutions to improving their jobs—and how they and their families are most disproportionately impacted by the health consequences of environmental degradation—workers are demanding inclusion in industry decision-making and wage-setting processes.

The Solidarity Center partners in Bangladesh with the Tannery Workers Union (TWU) representing those who—like others in Bangladesh and around the world—are suffering geographic displacement and other climate change consequences, as well as environmental degradation at work and in their communities.



Ukraine: Domestic Workers Organize for Recognition, Dignity

Ukraine: Domestic Workers Organize for Recognition, Dignity

In a first for Ukraine, in-home childcare workers including nannies and babysitters organized and then elected domestic worker Tetiana Lauhina to head their new labor organization, Union of Home Staff (UHS).

“[My colleagues] are amazingly hard-working and well-educated. I want all of them to be recognized as workers and officially protected,” says Lauhina in a video interview.

The Union of Home Staff (UHS), formed by 17 domestic worker activists, will vigorously advocate with Ukraine’s lawmakers and government to ensure protections for domestic workers and formalization as workers under the country’s labor law.

As an outgrowth of nongovernmental organization Union of Home Staff (UHS), the new union will continue to use its allied organization’s name and acronym, UHS, expanding its services as an information hub and community center, including for its 1,800 Facebook members. 

Ukraine’s first nationwide survey of domestic workers last year found that working without contracts and formal recognition had left most survey respondents victims of low pay, wage theft, confusion about employment status, exclusion from the country’s pension system and minimal capacity to exercise their right to freedom of association. And, without legal formalization as workers, Ukraine’s domestic workers lack access to care rights and services for themselves and their families—including maternity and child benefits, long-term care services and disability compensation for workers who die or are injured in their employers’ homes.

“[The domestic worker] is not secure and she is nobody for the state,” says Lauhina.

Because women account for three-quarters of the 75.6 million domestic workers globally, domestic worker rights are key to the achievement of gender equality. On International Women’s Day this year, the ILO issued a new policy brief urging governments and employers’ organizations to ensure that domestic workers have access to labor rights and social protections.

Nongovernmental organization UHS was formed in 2019 with support from Ukraine labor rights nongovernmental organization Labor Initiatives (LI) and the Solidarity Center to raise awareness about labor rights challenges for Ukraine’s care economy workers and support the country’s legislative efforts to formalize domestic work.

Government-Issued Debt, Illicit Financial Flows Bleed Africa Dry, Say Unions

Government-Issued Debt, Illicit Financial Flows Bleed Africa Dry, Say Unions

A solidarity action by more than 1,000 workers on the streets of Lusaka, Zambia, last month highlighted an Africa-wide, worker-led campaign to address the consequences of mounting government debt and illicit financial flows.

“It is necessary for Africa’s debt to be canceled to stop the bleeding of African economies,” said Rose Omamo, deputy president of the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa and IndustriALL vice president, who helped deliver a petition to Zambia Labor and Social Security Minister Brenda Tambatamba March 21, 2024. Solidarity Center partner ITUC-Africa represents 17 million working men and women in 52 African countries.

Citing ”grave concerns” about borrowing governments’ lack of transparency in securing, using and managing loans, ITUC-Africa is calling for official and private creditors to restructure Africa’s debt to protect citizens’ access to vital social protection services such as education, health, pensions, infrastructure, sanitation and water.

Social protection is a key driver in the achievement of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Vision 2050, which includes among its five pillars sustainable development and social inclusion. Indeed, the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) is spearheading a subregional “Healthcare Is A Human Right” campaign.

To further protect the continent’s citizens against resource grab, illicit financial flows—which include multinational tax dodging, government corruption and other criminal activity—must be curbed, say unions. Doing so could cut by almost half the $200 billion annual financing gap for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, reports the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

An estimated $88.6 billion, equivalent to 3.7 percent of Africa’s GDP, is leaving the continent as illicit capital flight annually, according to UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa Report 2020.





More than 1 billion people, or 16 percent of the world’s population, experience a significant disability, and 80 percent to 90 percent of working age people with disabilities are unemployed in developing countries. People with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than those without disabilities, such as under education, a higher drop-out rate, lower levels of professional integration and higher poverty levels.

In Central Asia, the Solidarity Center partners with disability rights groups to promote inclusive employment, including through inclusive education. Zakhira Begalieva and Gulmira Kazakunova, disability rights activists who head Kazakhstan’s I Teach Me and Kyrgyzstan’s Ravenstvo, respectively, last month joined more than 1,000 people from 100 countries in Vienna for the UN’s 2024 Project Zero Conference to learn more about Inclusive education and information and communication technology (ICT), and to explore regional and global alliance-building opportunities.

“Here you feel some kind of freedom and you feel that opportunities are not limited,” said Kazakunova.

In Kazakhstan, I Teach Me provides online training for youth with disabilities to prepare them for future employment and, in Kyrgyzstan, Ravenstvo educates women with disabilities to help them secure jobs and advocates for inclusive education to help increase job market participation for women with disabilities.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which aims to create conditions for persons with disabilities to participate in society on an equal basis with others and free from discrimination, was ratified by Kazakhstan in 2015 and Kyrgyzstan in 2019.  However, discrimination against people with disabilities has persisted.

In Kazakhstan, the UN Development Program (UNDP) reports that the country’s more than 750,000 people with disabilities every day, “face obstacles on the way to gaining equal access to education, health and employment.” The Solidarity Center in Kazakhstan is supporting partners who, after years of advocating for inclusivity, are now focused on implementation of new legislative measures and a legal framework adopted to ensure implementation of CRPD. Starting this year, more than 34,000 workers with disabilities were covered by measures to promote employment.

In Kyrgyzstan, the Solidarity Center is supporting a program focused on reducing discrimination in employment and promoting the labor rights of workers with disabilities—the first of its kind in the country. A 2022 Solidarity Center study revealed that only 20 percent of people with disabilities surveyed in Kyrgyzstan were employed, most in insecure seasonal or part-time jobs. Through a combination of legislative analysis, large-scale media campaigns, the development of a mobile application, individual legal support, educational trainings and collaboration with key organizations, the Solidarity Center is working to make real change for people with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan, including efforts to harmonize regulations and mechanisms in the country’s labor code to improve laws impacting people with disabilities. 

Unions and other worker associations can be especially effective advocates for disability rights. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that unions are the  strongest voices advocating for the rights of people with disabilities at work around the world. Public-sector unions, where survey data shows workers with disabilities experience higher levels of union representation, are natural organizers around rights issues because of their position at the nexus of governance and work.

Learn more about strategies that civil society allies in Kyrgyzstan, with Solidarity Center support, are using to advance and protect the rights of people with disabilities—including coalition-building and joint advocacy projects with national and local disability rights organizations, pro-bono legal support, data collection, legislative reform and trainings-of-trainers with disabilities. [Video in Russian]

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