Over 5,000 health workers who recently instituted a strike against their employer—the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW)—have now agreed to return to work following days of intense negotiations by major stakeholders.
The news of the resumption of work was disclosed to the Daily Observer by Mr. Joseph Tamba, president of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia (NAHWAL) and ring leader, in an exclusive interview, Tuesday, February 25.
“As you may be aware, we began to ‘go-slow’ on February 17. Since we initiated that legitimate action, there have been intense negotiations behind the scenes. We finally came to an understanding late last night (Monday night) and we immediately proceeded to ELBC to tell our colleagues to return to work today,” Mr. Tamba, said.
Touching on some of what they had agreed on during the negotiation, the health workers said authorities at the Health and Social Welfare Ministry had assured them that they would employ at least 3,000 of their members in this budget year and that in the next budget year another batch of their members would be absorbed.
At some point during the negotiation, talks broke down when members of the Senate could not commit themselves to an MOU the health workers’ leadership had requested of them since they (leadership) were being asked to return to work as their demands would have been addressed by the Government of Liberia.
However, he stated that with the intervention of All Liberian Professional Organizations (ALPO), National Traditional Council of Liberia (NTCL), Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET), World Health Organization (WHO), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, etc, they resumed talks with the Senate and finally the impasse was resolved late Monday evening.
Tamba was one of over 20 persons fired by Health and Social Welfare Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale, two days into the strike after he had warned that by the 21st of February if those on strike didn’t return to work, he would terminate their services with the MoHSW.
Responding to that, Tamba said even though he and others had been served letters of dismissal by Dr. Gwenigale, they were assured that they wouldn’t be witched hunt upon their return to work.
Tamba: “I went to work this morning (Tuesday morning) and signed in; no one told me that I had been fired so I should leave. In fact I have been told that my pay is in the bank and I should go and collect it.” He also said similar things for others, whose services were also terminated by the Minister of Health and Social Welfare.
He, however, thanked their bosses at the Health Ministry for listening to them (health workers) and added that they were willing to continuously work with Dr. Gwenigale, Dr. Bernice Dahn and Cllr. Vivian Cherue, all of whom they (health workers) had asked to resign from the Ministry before they could enter into any negotiations.
The Daily Observer rang Dr. Gwenigale and asked him on the return of health workers back to work and also on those he had fired.
Health Min. Gwenigale: “Right now, I am not prepared to say anything on the health workers’ strike action or their return until sometime next week. I want to see and know all of who will return to work before I can make comment on it.”
Meanwhile, the Health Minister has trashed calls from the opposition political party calling for him to resign his post.
The deputy secretary general for press and propagandas of National Patriotic Party (NPP), Marvin Cole, indicated that the health sector remains a critical component of the establishment of the nation, and as such, Dr. Gwenigale has no place in the administration of said sector.
Speaking at a news conference Cole noted that “the poor administrative oversight” provided by the health boss shows “his inconsistence in addressing the critical health needs of the country.”
However, Dr. Gwenigale, who career as a trained surgeon spans more than three decades, said he would not dignify Cole’s statement.
“Look Alaskai, I have other very important things to do; I am not going to waste my time reacting to that,” he told our reporter.