Health Workers Asso. Threatens Health Sector Again

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Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale displaying a document with_web.jpg

The National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NHWAL) is again threatening a national strike action.

Last year when these workers went on strike, the whole nation’s health sector came to the brink of collapse. The Health Ministry and other institutions reported  cases of death and patients forcibly abandoning public health facilities for home or heading to private health facilities. At some public health facilities, only the Ministry of Health’s assigned medical doctors, were there alone to cater for patients. Again, they are threatening to begin strike on February 17, if nothing tangible is done to address their concerns, which they had put forward sometime early last year.

BACKGROUND

The NHWAL last February went to the Capitol Building and put forward a 14-count points and asked their lawmakers to address them.

Mr. Joseph S. Tamba, president, NHWAL, reading their points, he had said that realizing that they overwork particularly on holidays and weekends and in most cases without lunch break, it is important for national government to consider providing allowances and benefits as is done in the case of other civil servants.

He said they were also dissatisfied over the marginalization of over 80% of health and social workers in 2010, when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced increment for teachers, securities and health workers only selected few health workers did benefit.

He also stated that given that about 40% of health workers in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare control facilities in Liberia are volunteers/contractors, thus they get older and even die without retirement benefits.

Another dissatisfaction that he had mentioned was the case handling involving the “mysterious disappearance and subsequent death” of one of their  colleagues, Mr. Ballah Scott, a health worker, who served the John F. Kennedy Medical Center for about 25 years.

Relative to salaries and other benefits demanded, he had pointed out that government ensures that health workers are given employment package that would include letter of employment, retirement package upon employment and that the employment of professionals be done through their respective boards that include, Nursing and Midwifery, Laboratory, among others.

Another thing, he had also stressed that health workers with Master’s degree and its equivalent should take home not less than US$2,000, BSc or its equivalent not less than US$1,500 amongst other.

He had also said that when any one of them is transferred from one county to another, resettlement package should be provided nothing less than US$500 and in the case of intra-county transfer, resettlement package should be US$250 while government should provide staff quarters/housing for employees with necessary housing utilities. If housing facilities are not available, government should provide five percent increment in salary for Monrovia-based workers and 10 percent for those in the rural areas.

Tamba and his colleagues had also immediately demanded a halt to the “unexplained deduction” of US$57 across the board from their salaries.

When this matter reached a boiling point and sprawled out of control, subsequently leading to deaths in health facilities because all the health workers had abandoned those facilities, interventions were made.

Lawmakers, including Senators Dr. (MD) Peter Coleman, Armah Zolu Jallah, Geraldine Doe Sheriff and others intervened. They had asked the health workers, through their leadership, to go back to work and that they would do all they can to address their concerns.

Health workers went back to work and had since been waiting for tangible action, according to Mr. Tamba.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 3, PRESS CONFAB

However, on Monday, February 3rd, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare (MOSHW), Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, addressed the press. He disclosed that he had heard rumors that the health workers were again planning on striking.

Dr. G, as he is affectionately called, said when Senator Dr. Coleman had hinted him about health workers’ plan to strike, he immediately contacted Sen. Jallah, who was one of those working on the report that was being crafted after they (Senators, Health Ministry officials and health workers) had met.

He said he also called NHWAL leadership, including its president Joseph Tamba and spokesperson George Williams. He asked them about the rumors, which they admitted was true that they were planning a strike action because their concerns were not being addressed.

At the Monday press conference, Dr. G stated: “We have an unfinished business that disrupted the health care delivery of our people. It is showing up again and I thought we should be pro-active to address it.”

The Health and Social Welfare Minister said one of the health workers’ complaints against the Ministry was that the authorities at the Ministry was deducting US$55 from their salaries without any explanation.

“We have tried to explained to them again and again. Ok, US55$ was taken and an increment was done to their salaries in Liberian dollars. Now, since they are saying that we should put the US55$ back, then should we take the Liberian dollars which is even more than the amount that they are complaining about?” he asked rhetorically.

He displayed a document, which was marked with different colors showing different figures in amount.

The press was only allowed to look at it and not have a copy.

The first person on the list, a health worker from Phebe Hospital in Bong County, was said to make US$180.43 “before adjustment.” And “after adjustment,” it dropped to US$125.43. It further showed that “Liberia dollars basic salary paid to” the same “health worker after adjustment” amounted to L$19,819.50 and that the total amount in US$ that the Phebe Hospital’s “RN Staff Nurse” received after adjustment was US$384.51.

Dr. G. said the difference paid as top-up to that employee after adjustment was US$204.08.

According to the Health Minister, the health workers were now earning more money and should stop complaining.

He also displayed a document, which he said contained a list having at least 500 names of some of the health workers, whose names had been forwarded to the Civil Servant Agency (CSA) for placement on the Government of Liberia’s payroll. Our Health Correspondent said once this is done, those individuals automatically become full employees of the MOHSW. The Minister disclosed that the Ministry was further processing at least 1600 others, for onward transmission to the CSA.

The Health Minister used the press conference to appeal to health workers throughout Liberia to abandon their planned strike action as it would only “hurt ordinary Liberians,” as was in the case last year.

He praised the health workers for making Liberia attained Millennium Development Goal number 4, which called for reduction in infant mortality. “Our infant mortality rate, which used to be 994 per 100,000 live births, has dropped to 770. It is still high, but it is good for us. So my appeal to every health worker is for us to maintain these gains and further work to reduce them. Please don’t hurt ordinary Liberians with your strike action,” he pleaded.

He urged the workers to wait on the reform exercise, which is being conducted by the CSA. He also called on Superintendents of all the counties to work along with their county health teams “so our people do not get punished.”

NHWAL’S REACTION

Our Health Correspondent put the Minister’s plea to the National Health Workers Association of Liberia’s president Joseph Tamba.

Tamba said they couldn’t comment now but the workers association would officially comment on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 on their next course of actions. He had, however, let the cat out of the bag that they would go on strike by February 17, if nothing concrete was done to address their concerns.

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