Liberia: Protesting Health Workers in Southeast Return to Work

Ministry of Health, Congo Town, Monrovia Photo Credit: LiberiaInfo

— As House demands a ‘road map’ as a means of addressing their plight 

Dozens of health workers in Southeastern Liberia have returned to work after nearly three weeks of protest in demand for better pay and working conditions.

This comes after a marathon of meetings between the protesting health workers and the Ministry of Health that ended with a commitment that their plight for better pay and working conditions will be addressed.

The Ministry, according to the agreement, also commits itself to kickstart work on the salary increment for health workers in hard-to-reach counties as well as the issue of salary disparities among health workers,  and the inclusion of volunteers in the country’s health system.

The health workers from River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Kru, and Grand Gedeh Counties in the Southeast, had among other things been protesting on grounds that healthcare workers with different academic qualifications are making less than US$250 as salaries, while they are working 24 hours a day amid the limited number of staff.

They noted that there are too many volunteers at the various facilities, which they noted is making their work ineffective because they are not earning, while pensioned staff are yet to be replaced.  

But after a series of meetings with the Ministries of Health, Finance and Development Planning, and Civil Service Agency, an understanding has been reached with the health workers to immediately address concerns of 800 health workers in hard to reach counties. 

“The government has acknowledged our concerns and committed itself to respond. As part of that process, approximately more than 800 health workers in hard-to-reach counties’ salaries issues are being addressed and they experienced changes,” said the Southeastern Health Workers Network of Liberia in a statement.

The release, signed by John Neufville, Acting Secretary-general, and Jack Toe, Acting Coordinator, noted that the government has committed to implement them gradually, which will continue till the end of the month.

The release added that both parties have agreed to first conduct health workers' verification audits as a means of cleaning the payroll, which the government claims would serve as a catalyst in achieving the overall processes.

“The exercise will be in fifteen days and the findings will be submitted to the Ministries of Health [and] Finance, and CSA by the leadership of the southeastern health workers for effective action. During the process, the verification team will visit each facility of the five southeastern counties: River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Kru, and Grand Gedeh counties.

The 400 health workers’ strike paralyzed operations at the various public hospitals in the southeast — making it harder for patients to receive treatment during the period.

Meanwhile, the House has mandated the two ministries and the Civil Service Agency to come up with an action plan, which would end the concerns of the health workers.

Members of the House of Representatives early last week voted to mandate the three institutions to meet its Joint  Committee on Health, Judiciary, and Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning, to ensure compliance with the health workers.’ 

Rep. Francis Dopoe, ll, who complained on behalf of the health workers, will be the resource person during the hearings.

The River Gee County District #3 lawmakers complained that “health workers of the same qualifications are not getting equal pay for equal work, while they are working in an extremely hard area with limited or small incentives, and that volunteer health workers are not being absorbed by the government payroll.  

“And that there is a constant and unnecessary deduction of salaries by the Government, as well as other disincentive conditions in their work environment.”

The House’s action followed the appearance of the Deputy  Minister of Health, Dr. Francis Ketteh; Tanneh Geraldine Brunson, Deputy Minister for Budget and Development Planning, Ministry of Finance and James Thompson,  Director-General for the Civil Service Agency (CSA).

Dr. Ketteh clarified that the salaries of health workers of the same qualifications are not based on qualification but also on experience.

He stated that the exodus of health workers leaving their  assignments in the Southeast to come to seek higher  education in Monrovia for a period of time gave rise to the use of volunteers.

Dr. Ketteh added that there are other challenges, but they are mitigating the situation.  He urged health workers to report colleagues who are not working to be replaced by volunteers.  For Brunson, the Ministry pays salaries as recommended by the relevant authorities.