Liberia: Striking Health Workers Seek Diplomatic Missions’ Intervention; Wants Govt. Uphold MoU

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Monrovia – Striking public health workers in Liberia have petitioned the United States Government, European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) to prevail on the President George Manneh Weah led-administration to deliver on their demands submitted to the government in a bid to help improve their living conditions.

It can be recalled that public health workers recently staged a stay home action, calling on government to live up to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with them in September 2019.

The striking health workers under the banner: National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) are demanding the certification of their Union, the provision of a clear salary base for each grade that correspond with their qualifications, reclassification of health workers who have upgraded their professional status over the period of time, and the suspension of the policy document for Redeployment and Transfer until the Union can have an input.

They are also demanding the provision of a blueprint on how the gaps created as a result of the pensioning of almost 1,000 health workers by the government will be filled, victims and families of Covid-19 should benefit from the US$500,000 announced in a July meeting held with authorities of the Ministries of Health, States for Presidential Affairs and Finance and Development Planning, salaries increment, and the payment of hazard benefits to all healthcare workers.

The Government of Liberia (GOL) reacted by calling on the public health workers or risk being replaced at the various places of assignment.

President Weah also instructed Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah to solicit applications, through County Health Offices to fill in the gaps creating as a result of the strike.

But on Wednesday, September 23, the striking public health workers’ stay home action took another dimension and elevated the matter at diplomatic mission in the country.

At the offices of the EU, US Embassy and the UN, the striking public health workers held placards with inscriptions: “We Want Drugs and Medical Supplies, Injury to One, Injury to All, We Want Good Working Environment for Health Workers”, among others.

They described working conditions at their various places of work as “appalling” as a result of lack of basic medical equipment; including drugs to enable them carry on their works in an effective and efficient manner.

They termed as an act of “modern day slavery” the consistent habit of relevant authorities of the Liberian government to renege on increasing their salaries, though they have upgraded their qualifications and the prevailing harsh economic situation.

According to them, the current low salaries being paid professional healthcare workers cannot commensurate with the current economic realities, including the regular increment of tuition and registration fees for their children attending various schools in the country.

“We don’t even have gloves or drugs at Redemption Hospital. If you go to the hospital, there are no drugs. Patients will buy drip and all other medicines. What happened to this government? Our pay cannot even buy one bundle of zinc or pay two children school fees. When we come to work, there is no tool to work with. We want the diplomatic people to help us” Moriah J. Morris stated.

She continued: “We want the ordinary people who are suffering to join us. Since last year July up to January, I have not received my pay. We don’t even have protective gears or PPEs. These clothes we wearing, we suppose to suffer?”

“Doctors were making around US$600 before; but now, some of us are making US$300, US$250. The economic situation continues to move from bad to worse on a daily basis, but yet, our government does not have time to increase our salaries or provide us the materials we need to work” another aggrieved health worker stated.

“Is it a crime to become a midwife? You are sending us to go back to school to go and learn another trade? We came here to tell you people that health workers can’t breathe; the government is preventing us from breathing. Our salary is nothing and our children school fees keep increasing every year. I am dropping the syringes and other materials to go back to school to learn another trade”, a midwife in her early 30s stated.

She added: “Our children need our attention because; we abandoned them to go and provide help for others to survive. If you decide to keep your salary for one whole year as a health worker to buy car to be carrying you to and from work-it can’t even buy you kehkeh (tricycle)”. 

“We don’t even have gloves or drugs at Redemption Hospital. If you go to the hospital, there are no drugs. Patients will buy drip and all other medicines. What happened to this government? Our pay cannot even buy one bundle of zinc or pay two children school fees. When we come to work, there is no tool to work with. We want the diplomatic people to help us”

– Striking Healthcare Workers

Call for Retractions

The striking public health workers, however, called on President Weah to retract statements he made to replace them with medical students.

They also expressed serious disappointment over comments posted on the social media against their husbands by Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Eugene Fahngon.

In a recent post on the social media, Minister Fahngon questioned the rationale behind a husband of a health worker receiving hazard pay even though he (the husband) is not a health worker in the employ of the government.

“So a healthcare worker husband is demanding hazard pay because he slept next to his wife daily, who is a nurse; should we pay?” he stated.

A day later, Minister Fahngon took down the post for unknown reasons.

They claimed that more citizens are losing their lives as a result of the preference given to medical students over them by government.

The Petition 

In the separate petition statements delivered to authorities at the US Embassy, UN and the EU, the aggrieved public health workers recounted that it has been nearly a year since the Liberian government signed a MOU to end a go-slow action initiated by them.

They recalled that paramount among their demands at the time were the granting of NAHWUL a certificate of recognition as a trade union institution within a 60-day period, and the prioritizing of health workers during the salary harmonization process through the placement of austerity measures to ensure that they are not negatively affected.

“As a follow-up on the implementation of these counts for the past one year especially on the certificate, the government has denied NAHWUL on grounds that it does not want the Union to have collective bargaining rights. This is in violation of the MOU signed in September 2019”, the petition maintained.

According to the petitioners, the alleged move by government to deny the registration of their union is in violation of Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution, Section 2.6 of the Decent Work Act Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organization, which Liberia is a founding member and has ratified.

Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution states that: “All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations”.

Among other things Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organization call for freedom of association and protection of right to organize, and right to collective bargaining.

The striking public health workers claimed that though they have petitioned the government through meetings and press statements to honor the MOU signed, their efforts have not yielded fruitful results.

“Now therefore, we the Executive Committee and the entire membership of NAHWUL hereby request the Government of the United States of America, through her Embassy near Monrovia to kindly prevail on the Government of Liberia to deliver on the following demands of which NAHWUL has communicated to the GOL in meetings and through press releases and of more recent on September 2, 2020”.

There are reports that the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) has called on the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL) to intervene into the matter.

Public health centers and facilities across the country have been abandoned, leaving relatives of patients and other medical students to provide healthcare delivery to those seeking treatment.

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