Gov’t, Health Workers Must Compromise, Says John Ballout

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Former Maryland County Senator John Ballout has frowned on recent decision by the Liberian Government to replace striking health workers

Calls for more dialogue amid political divide

A prominent Liberian politician has criticized the government of President George Weah’s decision to replace health workers who are striking for better working conditions and demands for better salaries and hazard benefits.

In his rant against the government, former Maryland County senator John Ballout said the government’s decision to replace health workers who are striking for a just call is unfortunate and a bad one.

“The replacement of striking health workers is not a good decision, rather a bad one.  I think people who are speaking of this are either playing a psychology, hardball or are being adamant to the fact that you cannot replace all of these health workers overnight.

“Health workers do not just drop from the sky, they are prepared and trained. They are people who are trained and have an extensive wealth of experience in their field,” Mr. Ballout said.

According to Ballout, who is contesting for the Maryland County senatorial seat, a position he once occupied, the government needs to stop threatening health workers with dismissal and find solutions to their problems.

“We need them in the hospital, not in the street. We need to engage them and find a compromise instead of threatening them with dismissal,” Ballout said.

Having frowned on the government’s action, he, however, cautioned health workers to understand that the government is currently faced with lots of challenges, so they need to find a compromise with the government.

“At the same, these health workers must understand that we have a government that is faced with lots of challenges, which we will have to overcome together as people. They cannot continue to stay in the street when people are dying in the hospital. 

“So, whatever offer the government has made, let them keep it up and if there is something to add on it, let them do it. Their cause is just but they have to keep working and keep talking. It’s their rights and no one can take it from them,” Mr. Ballout added.

He also acknowledged that it is the health worker’s right to protest, but they should take advantage of dialogue and see how they can build on it to have the government meets some of their demands. 

“This, too, will not happen overnight and they will not get everything they want and the government will not threaten them with dismissal because they cannot employ these people overnight,” he said. “The mass dismissal is out of the question and it is wrong. Health workers have sacrificed a lot, so they have to be treated with respect. We have to work with them, we have to find a solution… Besides, I think if this organization is unionized, it will bring the best out of this country,” he added.

Mr. Ballout further said both sides need to come in the middle and find a solution since this is a Liberia problem, especially when they are the ones at the fronts battling this coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHUL) has alleged that the government has failed to provide essential medical drugs and other equipment to various health facilities especially referral hospitals.

According to the organization’s Assistant Secretary-General, Deemi T. Dearzrua, Liberia’s poor health system has resulted in the death of many citizens; because the government is yet to prioritize the health sector of the Country. 

“Key amongst our concern is the granting of the institution a certificate of recognition as a trade union, better salaries, and hazard benefits, considering that COVID-19 has exposed them to more danger.

We have to initiate this strike action since the government has denied us the right to become a union on the ground that doing so will be going against the “Decent Work Act” which prohibits union for civil servants.

“This position of the government is wrong. It violates  Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution, which gives all citizens the freedom to associate in political parties, trade unions, and other organizations,” said Mr. Dearzrua.

According to him, the Decent Work Act, section 2.6 gives rights to form organizations and to bargaining collectively. He noted that Liberia is a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and had signed Convention 87 which calls for Freedom of Association and protection of the right to organize, and Convention 98 which calls freedom to organize and the right to Collective Bargaining.

It can be recalled that on Wednesday, September 16, 2020, scores of health workers under the auspices of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHUL) initiated a go-slow action in order to claim the government’s attention on the need to pay them their benefits, including hazard benefits, considering that COVID-19 has exposed them to more danger.

The Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led the government, after meeting with the leadership of the health workers, received a number of demands including that they (health workers) be recognized as a union. The government, however, refused to accept any proposal for health workers to have a union. The government’s position against unionizing the health workers association comes in line with the “Decent Work Act” which prohibits such a move by all civil servants.

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