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Work on the ground: three national action plans

10 August 2016
PSI-WAHSUN Conference on Ebola, November 2014.
The kick-off of our activities was a large consultation meeting in Ghana with the health unions from the three most affected countries Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. After an exercise on union challenges, opportunities and priorities, the unions started working on the analysis of their own national situation and the elaboration of a national action plan for their union.[This article is an extract from the 2016 update "PSI trade union response to the Ebola Virus Disease".]

On returning to their respective countries, a lot of internal awareness-raising and consultation inside the unions had to be done. The strategy is a different way of working, it steps outside the known union environment and reaches out to other kinds of organisations. To make this change of mentality, a lot of internal discussions with the rank and file is necessary. A second reason for the internal consultations was the input on the local situations from the members, so the National Action Plans truly cover the challenges and realities on the work floor.

In January 2015, PSI visited the three countries and the National Action Plans were finalised, all three focusing on collection of information and elaboration of argumentation, networking and lobby work, linked to the themes of working conditions, social security, qualitative public health systems and crisis preparedness.

In Guinea, work started in 2015 with the first contacts with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and in 2016, an internal union vision is elaborated, based on which these contacts will be further deepened and a closer collaboration will be set up where possible. Together with those organisations who share the same views on what is needed for the realisation of quality public health systems, different lobby instruments will be elaborated and applied. The lobby work will focus on initiatives to be included in decision-making bodies and awareness-raising on the networks’ common demands.

An important part of the National Action Plan is dedicated to Social Security: a survey was carried out on what support the families of the deceased health workers did or did not receive from the government. Based on this, activities will be elaborated to provide up support for the families. A last activity is the organisation of a National Forum on Social security with participation of both CSOs that are part of the network and from contacts built up during the lobby activities.

In Sierra Leone, the health union is already in close contact with a whole range of CSOs active on health. In the context of the Ebola Response Strategy, a monthly meeting has been set up, in order to discuss together the many challenges the country faces in the health department, linked to decent working conditions and a qualitative service to all. Given these close contacts, a selection of people representing various health CSOs were included in the Project Management Committee (PMC) and the National Action Plan was elaborated together. This resulted in an action plan that not only includes health workers and union members for the collection of information and awareness-raising, but also representatives of the CSOs at the district level, Village Development Committees and Community Health Workers’ Committees.

In Liberia, unions are faced with an additional challenge: the right to organise is not recognised in the public sector and unions and associations are confronted with continuous  anti-union behaviour from the government. So next to the different pillars and themes of the strategy, their action includes an additional focus on trade union rights with activities on union certification and the reinstatement of dismissed union leaders. The first action was an official complaint against the Liberian government to the ILO Committee of Freedom and Association.

PSI affiliates in the country: NAHWAL and NPSHWUL of respectively the public and the private health sector, LUNAST of the education sector and NTUPAW of the public sector workers are all collaborating on this issue. This combined union expertise gives them a much better view on which state actors to target, and various visits to the relevant committees of parliament and ministries have already been undertaken.

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