Employees at the National Agency for Legal Aid (NALA) have expressed dissatisfaction with the working conditions at the Agency and threatened a sit-down strike. The staffs’ demands are scribbled in a leaked letter addressed on 25th June 2021 to the Executive Secretary, a letter seen by The Chronicle.
In the leaked letter, NALA staff express frustrations over the lack of resources needed to make their work effective and efficient. NALA is the Agency responsible for providing free legal services to children in contact with the law or to adults charged with a capital offense but unable to afford the services of a lawyer.
The letter revealed that the agency vehicles used for transporting lawyers to court proceedings are so old and worn out. The Agency covers all superior and Children’s Courts throughout the country, with only one roadworthy vehicle barely available to the legal unit. In addition, the staff says that the vehicles’ seats sometimes tear their clothes because of the open wires in the car, which the lawyers describe as ‘Embarrassing and humiliating.’
“Our vehicles are so dilapidated that they often break down in the middle of the road, leaving us stranded on the road or forcing us to join public transport to get to court. The vehicles at the Agency have not only become health hazardous to the employees but several Lawyers have been involved in accidents while on their way to serving the nation,” the leaked letter reveals.
The Legal Department grappled with negligence.
From the leaked letter, it seems that there is no one or no office spared at the Agency. The staff says it only manages to keep up the appearance of working as expected and required at the Agency. For example, the letter reveals that the “Legal Department responsible for printing daily court briefs, proceedings, and essential documents has no printer.” The only printer available in the whole Agency is at the assistant accountant’s office, which they claimed is closed for now.
Lawyers claim in the letter that they go to print court proceedings outside the office at their own expense on several occasions.
The government reminded of its forgotten promises.
The Agency’s caretaker, the government of The Gambia, is also reminded of its forgotten promises to its NALA employees in the leaked letter. “Sometime in March 2020 at one of our meetings that our counterparts at the Ministry of Justice have received a hundred percent (100%) pay rise with a drawback from January 2020. As lawyers in the employment of the state, we protested that staff of the Agency should be accorded same pay rise or even more taking into account how disadvantaged we are and the daunting task our office has been inundated with,” the staff recalled.
“You intimated to us following the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Agency with the president of the Republic sometime last year that steps were being taken to ensure we have adequate mobility and to receive the same pay rise as our counterparts at the Justice Ministry. However, we are halfway into 2021, and this promise has remained unchanged,” NALA staff remind their Executive Director in the leaked letter.
To conclude, the National Agency for Legal Aid staff demand that mobility is addressed as a matter of urgency. They also ask that the lawyers obtain the same pay rise as their counterparts at the Ministry of Justice with a drawback from January. The lawyers further demand that a centralized network-connected printer is installed at the office to ease printing of court processes or that the office provides a printer for the legal department.
The leaked letter ends with a planned protest if there is no solution to the issues raised by NALA staff. “We have resolved to embark on an indefinite sit-down strike to commence on 1st July 2021 if the above resolutions are not urgently addressed,” the letter reads.