-Admonished health workers to return to work while negotiations for better working conditions continue
David Menjor and Simeon Wiakanty
Liberia Medical and Dental Association (LMDA), the umbrella organization of health workers, including nurses, doctors and dentists, has called on the government to stop threatening disgruntled health workers with replacement, should they refuse to return to their respective places of assignment and continue work.
The caution follows the Liberia Medical and Dental Council’s (LMDC) objection statement against President George Weah’s instruction to the Health Ministry to begin soliciting applications from qualified health workers to replace those striking health workers who have refused to call off their action and return to work.
LMDA’s caution was contained in a statement issue at a press conference held at its office in Sinkor on September 21, 2020.
“While we caution the government against laying off our colleagues for staying away from jobs due to dissatisfaction, we are also cautioning all health workers to stop making inflammatory statements that have the propensity to derail the ongoing negotiations.
“We have always championed the cause of seeing to it that healthcare providers work in a safe environment and are paid their deserving salaries and benefits, including health hazard benefits whenever there is a pandemic,” Dr. Moses Ziah, LMDA’s Assistant Secretary said.
Dr. Ziah said the Government should endeavor to improve the fragile health sector for the common good of all who live in the country.
“It is worth emphasizing that the medical field, like others, is one of teamwork and that every member of the team, from doctors to cleaners, plays a very peculiar and indispensable role in healthcare delivery. In the absence of one member, the entire team is distorted, resulting in adverse patient outcomes,” the Dr. Ziah said.
He added that while the government thinks that recruiting student health practitioners or inexperienced ones is a good thing to fill the gaps created due to the strike action from the health workers, the job calls for fit or purpose and motivated ideas that can spur into desirable and practical results.
The LMDA called on its members working at health centers across the country, government or private owned, to return to work in order to avert any exponential rise in death tolls at the various health centers affected by the go slow action.
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 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 government, after meeting with the leadership of the health workers, received a couple of demands including allowing them (health workers) to unionize their organizations, accept and commit an initial US$2 million. The government, however, refused to accept any proposal for health workers to have a union.
The government’s argument against unionizing health workers association comes in line with the “Decent Work Act” which prohibits such a move by all civil servants.
LMDA, in continuation of its message to both the government and its members currently on the go-slow, said that Liberia’s healthcare system can benefit everyone directly when it is improved and the right conditions are met.
In consideration of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL), LMDA proposed that NAHWUL should seek legal recourse in order to get or not, the certificate of a union.
“We encourage them to suspend this demand of receiving a certificate to operate as a legal union and refrain from making it a prerequisite for health workers to return to work,” Dr. Moses Ziah noted.
LMDA called on the government to reclassify or deal with health workers justly, mainly considering their credentials and job descriptions.
“All health workers should be on par with their fellow colleagues who are making more money. Everybody deserves the same amount of money for the same job done and responsibilities executed,” Ziah emphasized.
Additionally, LMDA has called on the government to replace all those pensioned recently so as to ensure that there is no huge gap in the workforce.
In conclusion of its list of proposals, LMDA has strongly emphasized the need for the government to increase the salaries and other benefits of health workers.
“We are appealing to the government to make a minimum percentage increase in every fiscal budget year for us (health workers). The economy is harsh and the overwhelming demands to make livelihood cannot be neglected, mainly for those at the frontline helping to the lives of many people,” the association noted.
Even though LMDA commended the government for the initial step taken to appropriate US$2 million, it stressed that there is a need for all health workers across the country to receive their health hazard benefits.
“Every health care provider, from nurse aides to nurses, from physician aides (PA) to medical doctors, as well as cleaners, is at risk due to COVID-19. Therefore, everyone should benefit,” Dr. Emmanuel Ekyinabah, LMDA’s President injected.
Dr. Ekyinabah said COVID-19 patients have all been identified through the local clinics, hospitals and other healthcare centers, not only at the 14th Military Hospital in Margibi.
He said LMDA will work with all healthcare organizations, including the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC) and the Ministry of Health to ensure that the government does what is right and healthcare workers accept to continue work with the hope that their concerns about better conditions and income are met.
He further appealed to the government to stop collecting taxes, mainly income tax, from healthcare workers until the economy can become better and salaries of health workers increased.
Meanwhile, as the government is yet to reconsider its decision to invite applications from new health workers to replace the striking workers, the Inter Religious Council of Liberia along with LMDA and LMDC held a meeting with the National Health Workers Union of Liberia, at which NAHWUL Secretary-General, Deemi Dearzrua, said ended in deadlock.
During the meeting, Dr. Linda Birch, President of the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC), appealed to the striking health workers to return to work, but Dearzrua said while they respect the view and appeal of the stakeholders intervening in the matter, their demands remain uncompromising and they are unbending in their decision to carry out the strike action.