By: J. Kortu Nyandibo
In recent time members of the Bong County Legislative Caucus refused to attend the first phase of the launch of China Union Mining Company, operating in Liberia citing the failure of the company to meet basic Labour standards.
The program which was held in the Company’s Mining Site in Bong Mines, Bong County, was attended by the President of the Republic of Liberia, to include some high profile officials of Government and foreign dignitaries.
China Union is supposedly investing some 2 billion dollars in the mining sector of Liberia and is operating from the former Bong Mines Company site that left as a result of the Liberian civil war.
The County Legislative Caucus has complained the company of an alleged unfair labor practices being meted out against the Liberian workforce most of whom are citizens of Bong County.
They accused the company of paying the Liberian workers low wages/salaries as compared to the Chinese workers.
They said that the company is not living up to the concession agreement signed with the Government of Liberia (which they ratified) by failing to provide safety materials, decent working conditions as well as housing units for her workers.
While is true that the Bong Legislators are carrying out their constitutional obligation thereby advocating for the rights of workers of the China Union Company, I strongly believe that members of the National Legislature should be equally responsible for the level of abuses in the labor sector of Liberia. What do I mean by this?; Labour lawsand labourregulations all over the world areanessential part of business and/or investment laws,though I stand to be corrected.
Investors coming in the country must first of all understand the labor law,policy governing employment and working conditions.
They must get clear understanding about our labor standards such as wages, safety measures, employment policy and conditions of work before making any investment in your country.
In Liberia, our current labor practices law is over than four decade old, meaning older than sixty percent of the present workforce of the country and had never undergone a review or revisited since enacted.This law,no longer conforms to present day realities and international labour standards.
As such, the law does not guarantee protectionfor workers and does not promote industrial peace and harmony in the labor sector of Liberia.
For example, according to our current Labour Law“Chapter 6, Section 513”, states that, “And unskilled laborer shall be paid for his/her work at the rate of not less than twenty-five cents (25cents) an hour if he/she is an industrial laborer, and not less than One Dollar and Fifty Cent per eight-hour a day if he/she is an agricultural laborer, exclusive of fringe benefits”.
Considering the above paragraph, the law does not provide protection for vulnerable and unskilled workers from exploitations by employers and does not also enhance efficiency and productivity in the labour market.
It is against these backdrops and realizing the needs to humanize and restore dignity to the Liberian labor force, that the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Labour during the first term of the Unity Party led Government initiated the review and reform of the labour practices law of Liberia.
This exercise was intended to ensure that our law meets international labor standards as well as to conform to present day economic realities.
As a matter of urgency, the Ministry through the Executive presented to the 52nd National Legislature for the amendment and to repeal two sections of our current labour practices law that were considered more brutalto the labor force of our country.
The two sections; 1508, Sub-section 3, which gave the employers rights to hire and fire without cause and Decree 12, which prohibit workers from staging strike action. This Decree was promulgated by the People’s Redemption council (PRC) Government; a military Juntaled by its head of state M.Sgt. Samuel K. Doe who later became Liberia’s 20th President during the 1985 legislative and presidential elections.
In 2007, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Labour with assistance from the International Labour Organization (ILO), the American Bar Association (ABA), the Liberian Bar Association (LBA), and the Law Reform Commission (LRC), the Liberia Labour Congress (LLC), the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) and Civil Society Organizations began the comprehensive review of the Country’s labor practices law.
After nearly three yearsof review and compiling of opinion and suggestions a final draft of what is now called the “Decent Work Bill or the New Labour Law” was completed in 2010 and forwarded to the 52rdNational Legislature through the Cabinet for enactment or passage into law. Since then, the law is lingering inthe corridorof the Capitol Building whileLiberian workers including workers of the China Union are crying for decent working conditions and wages.
Even though, the Ministry and other legal professionals including former Labour Ministers, Cllr. J. Lavela Supuwood, Cllr. Tiawon Saye Gongloe and former Chairman of the Law Reform Commission now member of Supreme Court Bench Associate Justice Cllr. Philip A. Z. Banks haveappeared before the Judiciary and Labour Committees of the both Houses of the National Legislature to provide justificationon why this Bill must be passed into lawbut, the Body has failed to see reason to pass the Bill.
During one of their hearings in the Senate Chamber in 2011, Cllr. Philip A. Z. Banks said that the Decent Work Bill is the first law in this country that has undergone such a comprehensive review in recent time and therefore asked the 52nd Legislatures to pass it for onward transmission.
The President of the Republic of Liberia Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has also added her voice to the voices of the many calls including that of the President of the Liberia Labour Congress (LLC) Ms. Elitha Manneh on the National Legislature to pass the Bill as means of enhancing labour administration in the country.
But the one million dollar question is that why is it that the National Legislature is still holding unto the passage of this most talked about Decent Work Bill?
The Decent Work Bill is the only and best alternative to reform the labor sector of this country and poverty reduction among low wage earners.
The Labour Ministry will not do much in the absence of this new law because the old one is still on the books and is being used by employers as a tool for exploitation of the workforce. The enactment of the Decent Work Bill and/or the new Labour Law by the Legislature will help to improve the welfare of the vulnerable and unskilled workers of Liberia as well as enhance labour policy for effective decision making by the Labour Ministry.
It is often embarrassing to hear callersonradio programs and parts of our society accusing the Ministry of Labour of not doing much to ensure that the rights of workers are protectedat workplaces around the country.
The Ministry is doing everything possible in keeping with her mandate to regulate and administer the Labor Sector of Liberia but much cannot be appreciated under this old labour law practices.
It is clear that many of ourpeople are working under dehumanizing conditions with low wages and other associated problems butthese problems can be better addressed when the Decent Work Bill is passed into law because itguarantees the protection of the rights of workers.
To conclude, let me join other concerned Liberians throughoutthe Country including workers to call on the 53rd National Legislature to pass the Decent Work Bill in the interest of industrial peace and harmony in the labour sector of Liberia in order to reduce poverty among the downtrodden masses or poor working people in our country.
Please note that, views expressed in this article is personal opinion of the writer and not of the Ministry of Labour
By: Joseph Kortu Nyandibo
Director of Communications/Ministry of Labour