Liberia: 'No One-Time Solution to Health Workers' Demands'

-- Says Health Minister Jallah, as NAHWUL's Go-Slow enters its third day

Health Ministry Dr. Wilhemina Jallah has disclosed that the Government of Liberia (GOL) does not have any "one-time solution" to the multiple demands, including age-old issues, being proffered and demanded by striking healthcare workers in the country.

Health Minister Jallah's comment came on September 16, 2020 in response to a go-slow action taken by health workers across the country in demand for benefits and other needs.

Speaking in an interview as a guest on the state radio, ELBC, Dr. Jallah noted that government will only act upon those demands of the healthcare workers that are "addressable," though she did not state when the government will address those addressable issues, since health workers have commenced their go-slow action, while those working at private clinics and drug stores are still in operation.

On September 16, the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) began a nationwide go-slow action in demand for certain issues that they want the government to address.

At a press conference on September 15, 2020, the Assistant Secretary-General of NAHWUL, Deemi T. Dearzrua, recalled that during a meeting with the President, where most of his cabinet members were in attendance at the Ministerial Complex, they outlined concerns that include granting NAHWUL certificate of recognition; providing a clear salary base for each grade that corresponds with the qualification of health workers, and reclassification of healthcare workers who have over time upgraded their professional status.

Additionally, NAHWUL contends that the policy document for Redeployment and Transfer of health workers should be suspended until the union can have an input; that the government provides a blueprint on how the almost 1,000 pensioners' gap will be filled; that victims and families of COVID-19 benefit from the US$500,000 announced in the July meeting with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of State and Ministry of Finance and Development Planning; that the government gives the long awaited increment of salaries; and that the hazard payment be executed for all Healthcare Workers.

The NAHWUL Secretary-General, confirming their go-slow action in protest of the government's failure to meet their demands indicated: "NAHWUL is constrained to withdraw from health facilities across the country as of midnight September 16, 2020, and is hereby declaring the stay-home-action until the Government of Liberia can meet our demands."

According to the Health Minister, 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.

Minister Jallah wondered why the healthcare workers would stage a go-slow action despite plans unveiled to their leaders by the government in the latest meeting they had.

Minister Jallah said one of the meetings was on September 8 with a subsequent meeting on September 10. "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 to answer some of these questions and what can be put into place now? It's not going to be a one-time solution for every problem. Some of these issues are age-old issues."

She, however, assured that solving the problems would take short-term, medium-term and long-term depending on the gravity of each, and all cannot be solved simultaneously, stressing that "If they say they want everything to be solved at once, it puts everybody in a difficult position."

She added that the government is working with the various groups that are part of the Union to address or resolve both "old age and new age issues."

She further acknowledged 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 whether or not they would be addressed in a timely manner by the 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," said the Health Minister.

In response to the Health Minister's statement, NAHWUL Secretary-General Dearzrua said they have not received a formal communication from the government through the Minister concerning their demands and, until that is done with tangible actions, they cannot call off their go-slow action.

The Daily Observer's Bong County correspondent, Marcus Malayea, said yesterday that health workers in that county vowed to stand by instruction of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia without compromise. According to Malayea, this go-slow has not resulted in the death of patients at any hospital in Bong, unlike strike actions in 2015 and previous instances.

In Nimba County, a health worker who is a member of NAHWUL told the Daily Observer that workers of most of the public health facilities in that populous county are also observing the go-slow action and will stand with NAHWUL.

A health practitioner in River Gee County said yesterday that health workers in the county are divided over the go-slow action, with some standing with NAHWUL, while others are not.

Author

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