GUINEA: Strike suspended, health workers back on job

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some government health employees returned to work on 18 September after the Federation of Health Workers Union announced the temporary suspension of its most recent 10-day strike.

The union's secretary general, Pierrette Tolno, told IRIN that though President Lansana Conte agreed to union demands on 17 September, the suspension is only temporary as the union waits to see if the government will give the country's more than 7,000 public health employees a bigger share of the 2009 budget, "A signature is one thing and the application of the statute is another."

According to the government's Guinean Press Agency, there were 10 deaths at Conakry's Donka Hospital during the most recent 10-day strike, which followed an earlier strike August 2008 that had been temporarily called off.

Some of the union's demands include salary increases, school stipends, 18-months' back pay that the union says the government owes 625 workers, and uniforms.

Tolno told IRIN the union is carefully watching government budget talks. "The real work starts now to respect deadlines." Tolno says the government is expected to back up its promises with money in the 2009 budget, which is to be decided during budget talks scheduled to begin 25 September.

Health workers reporting back to the country's largest hospital, Ignace Deen Hospital, found mostly empty waiting rooms.

A doctor in the hospital's neurology department, Oumar Sylla, said his first day back at work was mostly quiet, "This morning, we donned our white coats again. But as this was the first day following our strike, I only had three consultations during the eight-hour workday. Normally, we have about 20 per day."

An anaesthesiologist at the capital's Donka Hospital, Toure Aminata, said she and her colleagues also returned to their jobs, "We arrived early this morning and reported to our departments. Right now I am preparing a patient for a surgical procedure."

Soriba Bangoura, the parent of a hospital patient, said the President's signing was overdue.
"It was time for him to sign the [contested] statute because if not, we were going to have more deaths in our hospital. Poor patients who were not cared for, who could not go to private clinics because they did not have the money, were forced to go home to die in their homes." said Bangoura
Union-led strikes during early 2007 in Guinea shuttered businesses and claimed more than 100 lives. Protesters’ demands included relief from rising food and fuel prices, better work conditions and the departure of the ailing President Lansana Conte, who has ruled for 24 years since seizing power militarily in 1984.

Recently, youths on the outskirts of the capital took to the streets to protest months-long electricity blackouts, which was a main grievance during the deadly 2007 strikes.