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Joseph S. Tamba and George Poe Williams, President and General Secretary of NAHWUL, a PSI affiliate, were dismissed by the former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ‘s Government following a nationwide strike against poor working conditions in the health sector.
While well-paid international aid workers were assured protective clothing and equipment, local Liberian workers received few of the same protections. This contributed to the infection of 375 Liberian medical professionals- almost 10% of the country’s entire health workforce. 192 of these workers died from the disease.
PSI's General Secretary, Rosa Pavanelli, expressed cautious optimism regarding the future of public health sector workers in Liberia:
“We applaud the decision to reinstate Liberia’s Health Union Leaders. This will bring a degree of closure to the unsung local heroes of the Ebola crisis and their families, many of whom paid the ultimate price for their service. The newly elected President, George Weah, clearly recognizes the vital contribution of Health service workers and their union to the country’s development. This is a move from a true team player.”
The move comes after the President met directly with the Health Workers and their Union leaders in early February - among the first meetings of its kind in Liberia’s history.
Although Liberia has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98 and their constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, unions have been officially banned in the public sector and have often faced oppression. PSI hopes the new government will turn this anti-union behavior around and recognise the various unions in the public sector.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, NAHWUL General Secretary George Poe Williams said:
“Many of my fellow health workers in Liberia gave their lives in the fight against Ebola - we believe that a strong, organised union is crucial to safeguard basic labour rights and working conditions, and key to prevent this from happening again. Our union, NAHWUL, would like to work with the government on the creation of a resilient, qualitative health system, ready to tackle any new health crisis that strikes the country.”
Although union leaders have been reinstated, back-pay and terms of return to work still require negotiation, which PSI will be supporting.