MONROVIA, Liberia – Liberian officials are pleading with nurses and physician assistants to show up to work today amid a dispute over hazard pay that has prompted calls for a strike in the middle of the Ebola epidemic.
A strike could deliver a serious blow to the fight against Ebola in Liberia, where the World Health Organization has recorded more than 2,300 confirmed, suspected and probable deaths from the deadly disease – more than any other country.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf personally toured Ebola treatment units around Monrovia on Saturday asking health workers to remain in their posts, assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah said Sunday.
“Everybody is appealing because it has adverse and very negative consequences on people suffering from Ebola and progress that has been made with the fight,” Nyenswah said.
Members of the National Health Workers Association are demanding $700 in monthly hazard pay on top of monthly salaries that are generally around $200 or $300. Monthly hazard pay is currently less than $500.
The association boasts more than 10,000 members, though the health ministry says only about 1,000 of those are employed at sites receiving Ebola patients.
George Williams, the association’s secretary-general, said he was waiting for the government to address their specific demands.
“Up to this point nobody has come to us to resolve them, so the strike action stands for Monday,” he said. “Our doors are still open to negotiation and we are waiting.”
He accused the government of rushing to license nursing students to replace striking professionals.
“They are planning to hire people to take our places. Because of that they don’t want to engage us,” he said.
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