Nurses and medical workers in Liberia are threatening to go on strike over a pay dispute, a move that could deliver a serious blow to the fight against Ebola which has killed hundreds in the west African country.
Members of Liberia’s National Health Workers Association said they would not report for work on Monday unless a demand for an increase in hazard pay was met.
The association said on Sunday it was calling for hazard pay to be increased by around $200, from what is currently less than $500. The average Liberian health worker’s base salary is between $200 and $300.
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.”
Around 200 health workers are known to have contracted the disease in Liberia, where personal protective equipment is scarce, and at least 95 of them have died from the infectious disease.
When the first Ebola cases were confirmed in Guinea back in March, Liberia agreed to pay $700 per month in hazard pay because there were only two treatment centres and far fewer health workers involved, assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah said on Sunday.
As the epidemic and efforts to contain it expanded, however, that commitment placed a “huge financial burden on the state,” he said.
The government then lowered the monthly hazard allowance to $435 per month. By comparison, doctors receive at least $825 in monthly hazard pay, and their salaries are more than double of most other health workers, Nyenswah said.
Ordinary Liberians expressed alarm on Sunday at the prospect of a strike, saying it could cripple the campaign against Ebola just as the international community ramped up assistance.
The World Health Organisation has recorded more than 2,300 confirmed, suspected and probable deaths from the deadly disease in Liberia, more than any other country.
The disease is spread via the bodily fluids of infected patients, leaving health workers especially vulnerable.