Health Workers End Strike, Return to Work Today

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The National Health Workers Union of Liberia has agreed to end its strike, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the government on Friday.

The nationwide strike by health workers at public institutions, which began on Monday, September 23, paralyzed operations at health facilities across the country, including in Gbarpolu, Bong, Lofa, Montserrado, Bassa, Bomi, Maryland, Grand Kru, Grand Gedeh, and River Cess.

The strike was meant to draw the government’s attention to the health workers’ demand for an increase in allotments to the health sector, to provide for adequate medical and laboratory supplies, in addition to other logistics necessary for maintaining functional health facilities across the country.

At a joint press conference at the Health Ministry on September 27, the union’s leadership said it was calling off the strike following negotiations with the government.

The union’s leadership said it called on its members to return to their respective areas of assignment with immediate effect.

“It was not the intention of health workers to abandon the Liberian people,” said George Poe Williams, the union’s secretary-general.

Williams noted that the strike was the union’s last resolve and it was “triggered by the prolonged overload of their concerns by past and present governments.”

“The union’s regrets the situation had to reach to crisis point,” Williams added.

Liberia’s Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah, who cut short her engagement at the U.N. General Assembly to resolve the crisis, apologized to those affected by the strike.

“The Health Ministry will work closely with the union’s leadership to address the challenges confronting the health workers in the country,” Jallah promised.

The health minister, however, praised the health workers for the orderly manner in which they conducted themselves during negotiations with the government.

The agreement signed with the government noted that employees would receive their salaries for August 2019 by September 27, and that salaries for September would be processed” at the end of the same month.”

The ministry also committed itself to paying four-year retroactive salaries to the previously dismissed union’s leadership “in two installments beginning October 31 and November 30, 2019.”

The union’s president, Joseph S. Tamba, and Williams were dismissed by Walter T. Gwenigale, the former health minister, on the orders of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for gross insubordination to their superiors.

“The ministry commits itself to [pay] salaries of health workers who have not been paid for the protracted period of ten months,” the agreement also noted.

According to reports gathered by The Bush Chicken from several health facilities across the country, the majority of health workers are expected to return to work on Monday, September 30.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Zeze Ballah

Zeze made his journalism debut as a high school reporter at the LAMCO Area School System. In 2016 and 2017, the Press Union of Liberia awarded Zeze with the Photojournalist of the Year award. Zeze was also the union's 2017 Health Reporter of the Year. He is a Health Journalism Fellow with Internews.

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