Stalwarts of the Liberian Senate, including Pro Tempore Gbehzohngar Findley, John Ballout and Oscar Cooper, stooped to the lowest and almost broke down in tears in the Joint Chambers of the Legislature Thursday, February 20, evening, as they unsuccessfully appealed to the striking health workers to end their indefinite strike and go back to work while that body worked with the Executive to ensure that their demands are met to the letter.
“We know we have not paid the needed attention to your plight as we should have, and that is wrong; we are appealing to you as those who take care of our mothers, fathers and children to see reason and help us put a halt to the suffering of our ailing citizens,” Margibi County Senator Cooper, almost in tears, repeated.
But the health workers represented by Messrs Joseph Tamba, President, and George Williams, Secretary General, remained resolute and vowed in equally pathetic tones that they have given the Legislature sufficient time since February, 2013, to address the salaries and other needs of health workers, but they (Senators) failed to take them seriously.
“What do you want us to do? Health Minister Walter Gwenigale does not have any respect for us and as a result, has failed to address our plight; instead he has gone ahead and dismissed 22 of our colleagues, who are from the leadership of the health workers. We are willing to go to work if Minister Gwenigale signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that he will not threaten our colleagues and will reinstate those he has already dismissed, “Secretary Williams declared.
The workers’ secretary general continued: “Honorable Senators, we took your message and appealed for calm. We told health and social welfare workers your preparedness to work with them in making Senator Jallah’s recommendations a reality. They have agreed in principle to return to work, however, they will have me to inform you that given what they do know about the current Health and Social Welfare Ministry authorities, that certain the following be observed: that an MOU be signed that will protect and guaranteed them all; that the Ministry of Health makes a media- pronouncement—both electronic and print—of the withdrawal of dismissal letters, and the release of their January and February incentives and salaries; and that there be a timeline of Senator Jallah’s committee recommendations provided that will give us vivid indications of when and how we can see that these things are being done. We thank you for your kind intervention.”
Immediately following the reading of that statement, the eight Senators present informed the over 30-man delegation of health workers that everything was already put in place for a speedy implementation of their demands, but that they (workers) need to call on their colleagues in the various counties to cut off the strike while another meeting that will include the Senators and Ministry of Health, and health workers are held this morning.
The health workers refused to bulge and maintained that as much as they have respect for the Legislators and their willingness to help resolve the impasse, the same can’t be said for Minister Gwenigale and his deputies; hence, they vowed to stick to their demands.
Some of the workers told our reporter that the situation now calls for the intervention of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who is said to be winding up a three-day visit to Lofa County. Others think that members of the House of Representatives, who have larger constituencies and have direct dealings with electorates, will now take over from where the Senate left off.
Complaints by health workers about their plight came to the knowledge of the Senate in February 2013, and a committee headed by Gbarpolu County Senator Armah Jallah was mandated to investigate and make recommendations to plenary (all members in attendance).
But as one of the Senators said on Tuesday, when news of the health workers reached the floor of the Senate: “We did not make appropriations for the health workers, but were more concerned about ourselves.”
Meanwhile, for the fifth day running, health workers in Bong County have resolved not to return to work until their demands are adequately addressed by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the Government of Liberia.
At a mass meeting at the Dolokelen Gboveh High School in Gbarnga on Thursday, February 20, the health workers through their vice president of the National Health Workers Association of Liberia Bong County Chapter, Viakandeya Forkpa, vividly stated that their concerns are not limited to salary increment and improved working conditions, but the reinstatement of their dismissed colleagues and the resignation of Health Minister Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale along with two of his principal deputies, including Dr. Bernice Dahn and Cllr. Vivian Cherue.
Mr. Forkpa in an interview with this paper said they have not received any communications from their national leadership in Monrovia to call on them to cut off their strike action.
The Bong County health workers in their meeting strongly warned their colleagues, who they termed as “cowards or charlatans,” not to return to work despite government’s persistent threat to dismiss those who will not go back to work.
“We will not go back to work until the Ministry of Health and the Government of Liberia can see reason to address our concerns. We pity the conditions of our kinsmen but let us receive our just benefits that belong to us” Mr. Forkpa emphasized.
Government Health Workers in Bong County on Monday February 17, joined their colleagues across the country to institute an indefinite strike action.
The health workers are demanding for employment, improved salary as well as better working conditions and the resignation of the trio.
The meeting was attended by Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson Mappy, the Catholic Justice and Peace Regional Coordinator Jesse Cole, Civil Society Organizations, the National Teacher Association of Liberia Bong County Branch and some members of the traditional elders.
In a brief statement, Bong County Superintendent Selena Polson Mappy appealed to the strikers to go back to their places of assignment as government is doing everything to address their demands if not all.
The Bong County Superintendent reminded the aggrieved health practitioners to always remain constructive in their engagement but not to follow the path of violence as a course of resolving problems.
Superintendent Mappy encouraged the health workers to for all times open their doors for dialogue with the Government of Liberia.
In an interview with this paper via mobile phone from Monrovia on Thursday February 20, the newly elected Chairman of the Bong County Legislative Caucus, Senator Henry W. Yallah, said the Senate along with representatives of the strikers and the Ministry of Health agreed on Wednesday February 19, in a special session of the Senate to return to work while negotiations are being concluded.
Senator Yallah informed this paper that both parties concurred that the dismissed health workers be reinstated and the US$55 deducted from the health workers be placed in their accounts.
Health Minister Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale recently dismissed about 22 health workers in the wake of the on-going strike action instituted by aggrieved health workers across the country and promised to fire all the little over 4000 health workers as of Friday February 21, 2014 if they remain defiance to return to work.
Hospitals in Bong County still remain closed. However, few medical doctors are attending to critical patients.