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Health workers declare nationwide strike

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The National Health Workers’ Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) has declared a nationwide “stay home action” as of midnight, 16 September, seeking to compel President George MannehWeah’s regime to address public health workers’ demands including salary increment, reclassification of health workers and health workers’ hazard allowance payment, among others.

Following a mass health workers’ meeting at the union’s headquarters in Paynesville Tuesday, 15 September, Mr. Deemi T. Dearzrua, NAHWUL Assistant Secretary General told a press conference that he and his group are afraid to go into a meeting with the government due to alleged threats from the government.

“Upon this backdrop, the National Health Workers’ Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) 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,” he says.

“…The people who have the mantle, the people who have the ability, the people who have the ways and means to have these problems solved are the people who now instead of addressing the issues, they are now threatening the staff,” Mr. Dearzrua claims.

He laments that the authorities here have threatened to put the police and the military in the street if health workers get out to stage a protest, alleging that it was even demonstrated by the alleged deployment of police at the John F. Kennedy Hospital compound Tuesday.

He says while there may be some health workers who may be on the other side of the river, he is also cognizant that the type of work that is done in the health care sector requires teamwork, explaining that a personnel who registers a patient is different from the person who does the vital signs or checks temperature, for instance.

“And the person who does the lab work is also different from the person who saw the patient; and the person who saw the patient is different from the person who dispenses the medication. So if one person goes …, what can you offer?” Mr. Dearzrua argues.

The NAHWUL official insists that the strike will continue nationwide until government certificates NAHWUL, as he also demands the immediate cancellation of a policy on redeployment and transfer of health workers.

Moreover, Mr. Dearzrua wants government to include NAHWUL in social dialogue; give Covid-19 benefits for infected health workers and the deceased families; that over 1000 pensioners be given their just benefits totaling about six months and that the alleged gap created on the workflow by their retirement be filled with immediate effect.

In announcing NAHWUL’s decision to withdraw from health facilities, Mr. Dearzrua recalls that on 2 September the union demanded the government here to implement a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in September 2019.

According to him, the government responded on 10 September 2020 by calling for a meeting between it and NAHWUL, with President Weah and nearly half of his cabinet allegedly in attendance at the Ministerial Complex.

After listening to the health workers’ concerns including a demand to grant a Certificate of Recognition, Mr. Dearzrua explains that the government officials surprisingly took term to haul words of threats and intimidation at leaders and members of the union instead of addressing the workers’ concerns.

“They [threatened] dismissals of workers who will strike and replacement with students, and Justice Minister Musa Dean was magnanimous in his words, when stressed the use of the police and army,” Mr. Dearzrua alleges.

Mr. Dearzrua particularly accuses President Weah of threatening to sack health care workers who will protest and replace them with student nurses and allegeding mentioning that the Minister of Justice has the right to deploy police and the armed forces in the streets for those that will disturb civil liberty. Additionally, the union also expresses disappointment in Labour Minister Moses Kollie, accuing him of cutting the rope having crossed the water.

“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 we the clinical and nonclinical workers of the public health sector as though we are vegetables,” Mr. Dearzrua concludes.

By Winston W. Parley

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