Health workers in Liberia win this year’s Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade union Rights

The “Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights” for 2022 goes to the Liberian trade union for health workers NAHWUL (National Health Workers Union of Liberia) and its leader, George Poe Williams. They receive the award for their fight for basic trade union rights for a group of workers who have been particularly vulnerable during the severe pandemics that have hit Liberia in recent years.

During the Ebola pandemic in Liberia, health workers had very poor working conditions. Ten per cent of health workers lost their lives. At the same time as the world has applauded the health workers’ fight against Covid-19, health workers in Liberia have lacked protective equipment, received low wages and their right to organize has been attacked.

The union NAHWUL and their leader Williams have fought for the health workers’ right to organize and bargain. They saw that a strong union was needed to improve the working conditions of the health workers.

Espen Løken, advisor for Industri Energi and secretary for the prize committee, says that the government of Liberia sees the union’s growth as a threat, and Williams and several of the leaders were fired from their jobs.

After a global campaign, Williams and his colleagues got their jobs back, and NAHWUL was promised a number of improvements and that the union would get the right to bargain.

Secretary for the prize committee Espen Løken

Forced into exile

In 2020, the health workers took action, and the authorities threatened to send security forces against them and imprison Williams. Williams was abroad at the time and has since been in exile.

The award of the “Arthur Svensson International Prize for Professional Rights” will put pressure on the Liberian authorities to recognize NAHWUL and Williams as representatives of the health workers in the country, with the right to negotiate on behalf of their members. But first Williams must return safely from exile and have the opportunity to lead the health workers further.

The award will contribute to NAHWUL’s campaign for better health services and better working conditions for health workers in the country

– The prize should also be seen as a recognition of health workers around the world. They have had very demanding working conditions during the pandemic says Espen Løken.

The award ceremony will be in Rockefeller Music Hall, Oslo, 15th of June.