About one hundred former Ebola workers yesterday staged a peaceful demonstration in front of the Ministry of Health in Congo Town in demand for their hazard benefits.
Their placards read: “We risked our lives, and so we need our benefits”; “Why is the Liberian government so corrupt?”; “We fought Ebola to save the country, but they are not willing to pay us.”
The protesters included body hygienists, body baggers and some members of the burial team from several Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs).
They said government owes them US$5,000 each as ‘risk benefits’ for the period they worked during the peak of the Ebola crisis.
They claimed that they submitted documents requested by the Ministry of Health, but with no fruitful results.
“We have done our best by hosting several consultative meetings with the concerned health authorities for this one risk benefit. Each time we are informed to come back the next month. This has been going on for more than three months, and the only means we have now is to demonstrate for our money,” a protester told the Daily Observer.
“We were on the frontlines in the fight against Ebola, so we want the benefits that are rightfully ours,” another said.
A spokesman for the demonstrators, Albert T. Gaye, said before the Christmas season, they met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at her Foreign Affairs office and she gave them US$2,000 with five bags of rice, apologized for the situation and asked them to assemble at the MOH on January 6.
“Since we arrived at the ministry compound, they have been refusing to talk to us or even allow us to enter the fence, knowing very well that the President asked that we should meet with them today,” a disappointed Mr Gaye said.
He said the demonstrators were saddened that “the MOH leadership has turned its back on us.”
Responding to demonstrators at the Township of Congo Town commissioner’s office, Health Minster Bernice Dahn explained that after the donor money that President Sirleaf lobbied for came, it went to various non-government organizations and the Health Ministry.
“We held meetings with all health worker organizations, international organizations, along with the Finance Minister, and agreed that government should take care of ETUs under its control and the NGOs should do the same,” Minster Dahn said.
She told the crowd: “In that meeting some of the NGOs said that by the labor law they preferred to pay you salaries and we informed them that whatever they pay you is considered as hazard benefits. So they paid you all the money that you’re requesting for and the ministry did so to people that were under its control. If any one here has not received any benefit let them write a communication to my office, we will check the database to see if we owe you or not.”
Though Minster Dahn did not disclose the date, she said her ministry would call a press conference to explain to the public about the risk benefit and publish the names of those who have received benefit payments.