“Uncompromising, Unreasonable” Government Labels Health Workers on Go-slow

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Despite intentional steps taken by the Government of Liberia to amicably resolve the ongoing standoff with members of the leadership of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, they continue to remain uncompromising, unreasonable and recalcitrant.

The leadership continues to demand unionization for health workers, in addition to an immediate implementation of standardized pay-grade and increment in salaries for more than 9,000 health workers at an estimated cost of US$15 million per annum.

The leadership is also demanding payment for more than 11,000 health workers who are not directly involved with COVID19 response, potentially a payment of US$8 million as “hazard pay” in addition to their regular monthly salary payment through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.

The government, during a meeting chaired by President George Manneh Weah on September 8, 2020, informed the leadership of the workers that unionizing civil servants, including health workers, would be a violation of chapter 1 Section 1.5 of the Decent Work Act, and the Civil Servant Standing Order which together exclude Government Employees from unionizing.

On the demands for immediate salary increment and hazard payment, the government assured the health workers of its demonstrated commitment to gradually increase the salaries of health workers, especially workers who are currently earning far below their standardized pay grade; and potential payment of a onetime hazard payment to health workers who are directly involved with the COVID-19 response.

Pursuant to this commitment, the government, through the Civil Service Agency, has already begun the process of recategorizing all health practitioners as a prerequisite to the salary adjustments which form part of their demands.

The government has also committed U.S.$2 million as initial payment of the hazard honorarium.

While acknowledging the hard work and enormous sacrifice health workers continue to make, the government emphasizes that there are limits to its capacity to handle all of the workers’ demands in the short run.

These decisions have been communicated to the leadership of the striking workers, but they insist that all of their demands must be met as a precondition to calling off the ongoing strike action at several health facilities across the country.

The government also thanks the majority of health workers who have elected not to abandon their assigned posts and calls on their striking colleagues to return to work as the government works on modalities to address their concerns.

The call, however, has gone unheeded, putting the lives of patients at risk. This action conflicts with the code of ethics of the health profession, which prioritizes saving lives over pecuniary gains.

The government continues to encourage health workers to return to their assigned posts but will not allow the health system to be put at risk.

Therefore, the Ministry of Health has been instructed to solicit applications from qualified health workers of various grades, including nurses, nurse aides, midwives, laboratory technicians, etc, in order to fill the temporary vacancies that have resulted from the strike action.

These applications must be submitted immediately to county health centers, the Ministry of Health, and the JFK, for screening by the MOH.

The new recruitment will not affect health workers who did not abandon their posts. The government reiterates its commitment to ensuring that there is continuing improvement and viability of the health sector.

Meanwhile, the government commends the army of volunteers, including nurses and medical officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia, who have stepped up to fill the gap in areas where some health workers have abandoned their posts. Such volunteers will be given first preference as the government hires to fill the gaps.

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