Liberia: National Health Workers’ Union Announces Strike Action over President Weah, Officials’ ‘Reckless’ Response to Union’s Plights
Paynesville – As Liberia grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the largest auxiliary group of health workers, the National Health Workers’ Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) has announced an indefinite stay home action over the government’s failure to listen to its plights.
At a news conference on Tuesday, NAHWUL, through its Assistant Secretary General Deemi T. Dearzrua, said the strike action starts at midnight, September 16, 2020 and will not cease until the Government implements its demand.
Among the requests include the issuance of certificate of recognition to the union, 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 and the immediate cancellation of a policy on redeployment and transfer of health workers.
It also called for the over 1,000 pensioners over the last six months to be given their just benefits and the gap created on the workflow by their retirement be filled with immediate effect.
The latest decision, according to NAHWUL 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 worker who dares go on strike.
It can be recalled that NAHWUL, in a press statement issued on September 2, 2020, demanded the government to live by its promise by implementing a memorandum of understanding it signed with the union in September 2019.
The MOU, among other things, called for the government to grant NAHWUL a certificate of recognition, provide a clear salary base for each grade that correspond to health workers’ qualifications, reclassify healthcare workers who have, over the period upgraded their professional status and that the policy document for redeployment and transfer be suspended until the union have a say in the process.
It also mandated the government to provide a blue print on how the almost 1,000 pensioner’s gap will be filled and that victims and families of COVID-19 should fully benefit from the US$500 announced in July’s meeting with the Ministries of Health, State and Finance and Development Planning.
In respond, the Government convened a meeting on September 10, 2020 with officials of the Union and attended by President Weah and some of his top cabinet ministers including the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, and Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah.
To their astonishment, the health workers said after outlining their demands to the President, he became angry and threatened to dismiss anyone who will protest and warned that the Minister of Justice will deploy the police to handle anyone who disturbs civil liberties.
“To our out most Surprise, the government officials took term to haul words of threats an intimidation at leaders and members of our noble union instead of addressing the worker’s concerns. They threatened to dismiss workers who will strike and replace them with students,” NAHWUL said.
The group added: “Giving all of the above, fellow citizens, the National Executive Committee of NAHWUL reasons that our services are non-essential to this government so they won’t mind to treat us, the clinical and nonclinical workers of the public health sector as though we are vegetables. Upon this backdrop, the National Health Workers’ Union of Liberia is constrained to withdraw from health facilities across the country as of midnight September 16, 2020-hereby declare the stay home action until the Government of Liberia can meet our demands.”
Taking serious exception to the threats made by the President and Justice Minister Musa Dean, the union called on the government to revisit Article Three of the Liberian Constitution to uphold their rights to trade union.
Minister Dean, the union alleged, threatened to use the police and army against its members; adding while it was addressing the press conference, the presence of police at the compound of the john F. Kennedy Medical Center was a testament that the government was determined to clamp down on health workers.
They accused Minister Tweah of sowing a seed of discord within NAHWUL and pinpointing the Union’s Deputy Secretary General who currently heads NAHWUL’s secretariat as anti-CDC Government.
“He [Tweah] has since been engaging in holding secret meetings with some members of our constituencies in a bid to divide and rule our membership. NAHWUL condemns these actions in the strongest term and called on the government to refrain from interfering in the union’s affairs.”
The group says it is disappointed in Labor Minister Moses Kollie, whom himself is a comrade trade unionist from the public sector and “have chosen to cut the rope having crossed the water.”