Following the radical and no compromise-mode from government about the striking health workers which has dimmed the light of hope and aspirations of those in dire need of medical treatments nationwide; observers are digging deep into the layers of political statements from leaders when confronted with impasse with a segment of the workforce or other setting that poses a tall challenge to the leadership.
According to them, they remembered vividly when the Late President William R. Tolbert, Jr., in the heat of the April 14, 1979 rice riot, while the Late Albert Porte in his quest to amicably resolve the high tension, and began shuttling between the leaders of those prepared to demonstrate as a sign of protest against the increase of the price of rice, and the government; one inflexible answer from Tolbert: that government does not compromise, made the negotiator’s (Porte’s) effort to achieve anything substantially; and as the story goes, the rest is history.
Once again, we have to the end of a rainbow after long patience of waiting and negotiation between President George M. Weah’s government and the leadership of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) concerning their (NAHWUL’s) demands which were packaged and presented to the government with the regime’s own position on the demands which resulted into the signing of a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) to enhance the smooth and cordial NAHWUL-government’s operations.
The observers looking through their historical lens and capturing the result of a government adopting a radically charged with a robust and no nonsense mood in a case that has dragged on for a year; despite involving the lives of the people of whom the government is under binding constitutional obligation to protect at all cause and costs; be it in health, sickness or security wise; could get so angry with the health service providers due to its (GOL) refusal to accept a proposition calling for the unionization of NAHWUL which the government says is a gross violation of the Civil Servant Law; it (GOL) elected other option to begin fresh recruitments to occupy the vacant positions created by the striking health workers; as a strategy obviously borrowing from Peter to pay John which is not genuine solution rather adding insult to injury; because truth crushed to the ground shall rise again; and the burial of a haunch back person will always be at the back of the heads of the new recruits.
They also added that after the 14-year civil crisis, one cue this nation and people took, learned and must forever keep and time after time applied without being weary for not being tough and mean, is to talk, talk, talk and talk whenever there is a problem or a hiccup in the governance system; and never to study war any more.
Now we see the sad prolongation of the row between the two actors (GOL and NAHWUL) imbued with claims and counter claims with the government in a clear term stating through its Health Minister, Dr. Wilhemina Jallah that the Government of Liberia (GOL) does not have any “one-time solution” to the multiple demands, including age-old issues, being proffered and demanded by striking healthcare workers in the country.
Health Minister Jallah’s comment came on September 16, 2020 in response to a go-slow action taken by health workers across the country in demand for benefits and other needs.
At the same time President Weah has instructed the Minister of Health to carry out a new recruit of health workers to fill in the vacuum created at various health centers due to the ongoing strike action of the current health workers over salary and other benefits.
According to a statement signed the Minister of Information, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, the decision is based on the refusal of the health workers to reach a compromise with the government. Therefore, according to the statement, the new recruitment would help fill the void to prevent the sector from collapse.
“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 statement reads.
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.
The government lamented that the intentional steps taken 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 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 Minister indicated.
But in a phone-in-talk-show on a local radio station in Monrovia a nurse said that while it is true that they have such dedicated commitment, hey as health workers are draining out of existence; with so low a salary with almost all going on transportation to be at work, and besides other pressing obligations to be attended to, due to the constraint, she has started building a clinic for 12 years and yet it has not been completed due to the low wage; so the government should know that health workers are human beings with families and obligations to meet like any other professionals.
In a related development, a local daily reported that the Executive Committee of the National Health Workers’ Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) has rubbished claims that the union has reached an agreement with the government to cancel its planned strike action in demand of payment and increment of salaries.
According to NAHWUL, the assertions by Sober George, a communication Consultant at the Ministry of Health is a ‘gross disrespect’ to the leadership of the union and inflamed the insensitivity to the plights of the health workers.
In a statement issued on Saturday, September 21 through its Secretary-General, George Poe Williams, NAHWUL said “while it is true that the government has made some efforts to hold a meeting with the union’s leadership, at no point in time was any memorandum of understanding reached or signed to call off the strike.”
In the meeting, the union noted the “government presented what they have done, what they are doing , and going forward what they will be doing concerning the harmonization plan and keeping the payroll up running and appealed that the union would call off the pending strike action.”
The meeting, the group said ended with the understanding that the Union’s leadership should return to its members with the government’s position and go back to the negotiating table with the final stance.
The group added that it was unfortunate that while negotiations are still being held, Mr. George will prematurely issue a statement that is “totally untrue, malicious, and intended to mislead the public.”
Meanwhile, the union has given an ultimatum to Mr. George to provide proof of his claims or issue a statement of apology through the local media and warned if he fails, the strike will go on as planned.
Excerpt of the statement issued by NAHWUL’s Secretary-General: “By mandate of the National Executive Committee, having perused the government’s promised without meeting a single demand, have rendered their efforts not good enough to call off the action. I do hereby announce that Mr. Sorber George has up to midnight, Sunday, September 22, 2019 to present the MOU signed between the Government of Liberia and NAHWUL, otherwise, the strike action remains in full; starting at 0:00 hour Monday, September 23, 2019 until the union demands are met.
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