Liberia: Health Minister Appeals to Striking Health Workers; Says Govt. Can’t Meet All Their Demands
MONROVIA – Liberia’s Minister of Health Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah has disclosed that the Government of Liberia (GOL) does not have any “onetime solution” to the multiple demands, including age-old issues, being proffered and demanded by striking healthcare workers in the country.
It can be recalled that the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL), through its Assistant Secretary General Deemi T. Dearzrua, announced an indefinite stay home action over the government’s alleged failure to listen to its plights and address their demands.
The Union called for the issuance of certificate of recognition to the union by government, increment of health workers’ salaries in fiscal year 2020/2021, the reclassification of health workers and payment of hazard allowance to all health workers.
In addition, the union is also calling on the government to give COVID-19 benefits for infected health workers and deceased families, the immediate cancellation of a policy on redeployment and transfer of health workers, and the provision of just benefits to over 1,000 healthcare workers pensioned, and the filling of the gap created as a result of their retirement.
The group claimed that its demands are stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the government in September 2019 during its first go slow action.
NAHWUL claimed that it latest decision to stage a stay home protest, stems from President George Weah and his top officials’ apathetic response to the union’s plights in a recent meeting at the Ministerial complex where the President threatened to dismiss any health workers who dares go on strike.
But speaking when she appeared as guest on state-owned radio ELBC on Wednesday, September 16, Dr. Jallah pointed out that government will only act upon those demands of the healthcare workers that are “addressable”.
She added that at separate meetings, the government represented by its relevant authorities, outlined its short, medium and long term plans in addressing the concerns raised by the healthcare workers.
She wondered why the healthcare workers would stage a protest despite the unveiling of various plans to their leaders in the latest meeting held with key government officials.
She said: “One of the meetings was on the 8th, and the other meeting was just Sunday; we held the meeting talking with all of them (health workers). You have to look at results in the country’s context. Where is Liberia now? What can they put in the pot to answer some of the questions and what can be put into the pot now. It’s not going to be a onetime solution for every problem. Some of these issues are age-old issues.”
“Some of the problems we will be able to short term, medium term and long term. Those things were listed and stated at these various meetings. If they take it in that context, I think we will get somewhere. But, if they say they want everything to be resolved, it puts everybody in a difficult position”.
She added that government is working with the various groups that are part of the Union to address or resolve both “old age and new age issues”.
Demands not addressable
Dr. Jallah justified that government is trying its best to address the demands proffered by the healthcare workers.
She admitted that some of the demands raised by the healthcare workers are based on financial issues, and as such, she will not sit alone to decide on whether or not they would be addressed in a timely manner by government.
“Sometimes some of the information that came to you might not be as it is. We have had several meetings with the leadership and I think the government is doing its best to address those things that are addressable. Sometimes you asked for demands that are not addressable and so, those things that can be addressed, the government will address them”.
NAHWUL is the umbrella organization of various medical or health groups in the public sector.
Some of these groups include: the Midwifery, Physician Association, Laboratory Technicians Association, Medical Doctors Association, Clinicians, among others.
Dr. Jallah pointed out that all of these groups have different problems or challenges which make it very difficult for government to find solutions.
“There are many associations under this group. Each one of these groups has difficult issues. You cannot tackle individual association issues under a big group because you will get nowhere. It’s better for us to be talking. What are the issues facing these groups. This will help us to come up with a solution that that will help the entire big body”.
Call To Snub NAHWUL
Dr. Jallah further called on healthcare workers to make an independent decision on working or staying away from carrying on their assigned tasks and responsibilities at various public health centers, instead of following the decision made by the NAHWUL.
“Whatever decisions that is made by a big group, you as an individual has to think on what is my own decision that I am making. Should I go back to work or shouldn’t I go back to work? This is a decision that should be made by you”.
“You can’t make a decision as a big group; you got to look into your own heart and see why you became a healthcare worker in the first place even though things are hard and times are difficult”.
She maintained that healthcare workers normally provide care and treatment to people who are not “strangers” and these people need them (healthcare workers) at all times.
“They (patients) are our families, children, mothers and fathers. So, we should think about the lives first to appeal to each and every healthcare worker that sitting home today should know that they should be in a facility saving a life or taking care of somebody that need their help while we sought out all of the different issues”.
She termed as “tedious” the categorization of healthcare workers to guarantee a better pay system.
The Liberian Health Minister, however, urged healthcare workers to abandon their stay home action and return to work.
She said it is prudent for the healthcare workers to continue to remain engage and sit with the government around the table as steps are being taken gradually to address their concerns, including the payment of hazard benefits, and the provision of incentives.
“I am here as a fellow healthcare worker, as your mother as you considered me and as your minister. This is an appeal to all of you to please go back to work as the government sort through all of the different things that you have asked and try to look at the ones that are possible and not possible. This is not the way to go to solve any issue. To solve an issue, you have to face the issue”.