At least 300 former Ebola health workers from various Ebola treatment units (ETU), including Médecin Sans Frontierès, yesterday shut down normal working activities at the Ministry of Health when they staged a protest claiming for ‘Risk Benefits’.
Health Ministry staff were locked in their offices for hours until riot police and the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Benedict Sarnor, came to their rescue and restored calm.
Minister Sarnor had told some of the protesters that he would talk with their leadership, catalogue all their grievances and take them to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for redress.
According to Amara U.G. Sambola, leader of the protestors, the affected health workers are approximately 3000 and they comprise workers from the GOL-run ELWA-2, ELWA-3, which used to be run by MSF and all other ETUs around the country. Sambola, however, clarified to the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview yesterday that they don’t have any problem with MSF. “MSF paid all the salaries to those of us, who worked with them,” he added.
He contended, on behalf of his protesting colleagues, that the GOL owes them months of unpaid wages — risk benefits, they claim — that the government promised every health worker directly working in the frontline of the Ebola virus crisis in the country.
He, along with other protestors vowed to remain demonstrating before the Ministry for 21 days, which is one incubation period of the deadly virus.
When things had calmed down, Madam Miatta Gbayan, Deputy Head of the Incident Management System (IMS), told a news conference that the Liberian government does not owe the protestors any money.
“We have paid response teams across the entire country. Throughout the entire 15 counties, we have paid the response teams,” she emphasized.
She further stated that for the ETU workers, payments have been made to JFK ETU at the time it was opened, ELWA-2, Unity Conference Center, Ministry of Defense in Congo Town and Island Clinic. She also stated that they paid workers at Redemption Hospital in Montserrado County, Ganta ETU in Nimba County and Firestone ETU in Margibi County.
Every time these workers protest for payment, they at the IMS have always told them to make a list of those, who have not been paid but they won’t bring a full list of people claiming benefits, she stated. According to her, the last list that the protestors submitted to the IMS only had nine names after more than 200 persons had gone to demonstrate for their benefits before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
She clarified that one delay to payment has been that health workers probably give wrong bank account numbers or either a name was misspelled or misplaced. But she added that the Ministry of Finance and various banks were doing all they can to pay all the legitimate claims.
Commenting on what had happened earlier in the day by the demonstrators, Ms. Gbayan stated, “I think that the situation of today, if we will continue to solve situations with violence, won’t help. I think it is a simple problem to solve. If we have a backlog of payments, we need their list to compare with the payment list.”
She stated that since the GOL started making payments back in September 2014, it has expended over US$15.6 million on more than 12, 000 claimants.
She, however, said that the government still owes two months benefits (April and May) for routine and response health workers. She stated that authorities concerned were now tallying their lists and as soon as the lists are finalized, payments would be made for both months. She hoped that by July 31, 2015, everything that has to do with hazard pay would have come to an end.
In a related development, she disclosed that the government was packaging four months benefits for all private health facilities’ workers who also fought the virus.