Is Liberian Labor Law Weak?

By Joseph Kortu Nyandibo Director of Communications and Public Affairs Ministry of Labor |nyandibojoseph@gmail.com/j.kortunyandibo@yahoo.com |  231-777024553/0888135310

Joseph Kortu Nyandibo, The Author

Introduction:

In recent times, the public are being made to believe that the Decent Work Act of 2015, which is the new Labor Law of the Republic of Liberia, is weak and as such does not provide the needed benefits and protections for workers, especially those working in the private sector of the country. Well, I am not a lawyer, but from my years of experience, working within the Labor sector of Liberia, I can definitely say that neither the current Labor Law of Liberia (the Decent Work Act) or its regularity and enforcement arm (Ministry of Labor) are weak as it has been perceived by many including the Liberian media community. The Decent Work Act has been described as the best alternative for dignifying and humanizing the labor sector of Liberia in that it conforms to international labor standards and provides huge benefits and protections for both employers and employees within the borders of   Liberia.

However, let it made be cleared that Liberia is one of few countries in the world or member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that has two labor laws.

In Liberia, we have the Standing Orders of the Civil Service that governed Civil Servants of government and the Decent Work Act of 2015, which is the Labor Law of Liberia, that regulates and administer labor practices in the private sector. Many Liberians, including the media community, often mistook the statutory responsibilities of the Ministry of Labor, to that of the Civil Service Agency (CSA). For example, on many occasions the Ministry of Labor is accused of not doing much to improve the well-being of civil servants working with various government institutions instead of directing seem to the CSA.

The Decent Work Act of 2015 (Labor Law of Liberia) has been graded by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as one of the best Labor Laws in the African region and the first Labor Law to be named after its Decent Work Agenda.

Also, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia , Cllr. Philip Z. Bank, than member of the Law Reform Commission in 2010, at one of the Public Hearings on the Decent Work Bill at the Legislature said, that the Decent Work Act is one of few laws within the Republic of Liberia to have gone through thoughtful reviews by several legal institutions and experts locally and internationally. All of these efforts were intended to ensure that it conforms to international labor standards and current realities.

 

Brief History of the Drafting and processes that led to the Enactment of Decent Work Act of the 2015:

In 2006, Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods, II, one of Liberia’s leading Human Rights Lawyers was appointed first Minister of Labor under the Unity Party led Government by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Immediately upon taking over as chief administrator of the Labor Sector of Liberia, Atty. Woods initiated the review of the Labor Practices Law of Liberia which has by than outlived its usefulness and longer conformed with realities of time and international labor standards. The Labor Practices Law of Liberia was crafted in the 1960s and by 2006 it was over forty years old, meaning that it was assumed to be older than over 60% of the working class of the country.

Minister Woods sought the assistance of the American Bar Association (ABA), Africa Rule of Law Initiative, the Liberia Bar Association (LBA), International Labor Organization (ILO), the Law Reform Commission (LRC) and others to undertake the review of the old labor law which subsequently led to drafting of what now referred to as the “Decent Work Act” the new Labor Law of Liberia.

With support from the American Bar Association (ABA), the Ministry of Labor hired the services of Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Former Labor and Justice Minister, Cllr. J. Laveli Supuwood, to complied a commentary of the Liberian Labor Law and practices.

Following the compilation and production of the commentary of the old Labor Law of Liberia by Cllr. Supuwood, the drafting of the current Labor Law of Liberia (Decent Work Act of 2015) commence with the participation of the ABA, Liberia Bar Association (LBA), ILO, Ministry of Justice, Law Reform Commission (LRC), the Liberia Labor Congress (LLC) representing workers as well as the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) representing employers/managements.

After nearly three years of review and consultations by these institutions, a final draft of the now Decent Work Act was submitted to the 52nd Legislature, for enactment and passage into law in 2010. For six (6) years, the Bill lingered in the Legislature, going through series of reviews and public hearings, in May, 2015; the 53rd Legislature passed and submitted it to the office of the President for signing into law.

In June, 2015, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed into law the new Labor Law of Liberia (Decent Work Act of 2015) in the presence of representatives of the Employers, Workers and members of the Liberia Business Association (LBA), (who are the end users of the law) at her Foreign Ministry Office in Monrovia. It is referenced to as “Decent Work Act of 2015” because it was signed into law in the year 2015, but its actual enforcement started March 1, 2016, following a dissemination and awareness process. The Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Labor printed several copies for distribution to various workplaces across the country. As a means of ensuring that it is widely circulated and users have ownership to the new law, the International Labor Organization (ILO) West Africa Bureau, produced one thousand (1000) additional copies for onward distribution to the labor sector.

What are some benefits and protection does the Decent Work Act provide for workers in Liberia?

As stated above, Liberia is the first country in the African region to name her Labor Law after the International Labor Organization (ILO) developed Decent Work Agenda and as it is called; it provides protection mainly for workers who are said to be the more vulnerable member of the labor environment.

Unlike the Labor Practices Law of Liberia, the Decent Work Act of 2015 guarantees several benefits and protections for working people within the boundaries of the Republic of Liberia. Under this law, the Minimum Wage of formal sector workers is increased to US$143.00 per month as compared to US$60.00 in the past while, Domestic and Casual workers are to receive a wage of US$91.00 per month. This category of workers (Domestic and casual workers), were never covered under the old labor law of Liberia, but are now covered under this new law.

Increasingly, several institutions in Liberia are paying above the current minimum wage, especially those with established Workers’ Unions and or Trade Unions. This is because workers through their respective Trade Unions or Bargaining Agents bargain for improved working conditions and benefits including increment in wages. This is why the Ministry of Labor, the ILO and stakeholders often encourage the coming together of workers for the purpose of establishing workers unions or associations in the workplaces. With union on the ground, both management and workers stand to benefit more.  The management will be relieved of the difficulties of communicating to large group of workers instead they can now channel their policies and actions through a leadership of the workers’ union. So, at Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), negotiation both workers and management have the opportunities to discuss and agree on things that promote a conducive working conditions and harmonious relations between them. Of course, some CBA has a lifespan of two or more years of implementation. During this period, it is expected that the parties will fully respect the terms and conditions therein. At end of the duration, the parties return to the table for a new negotiation of the CBA.

The Decent Work Act prohibits the dismissal of workers with or without cause by employers and managements. Dismissal can only be carried out with cause in keeping with provisions of the law. It sets one (1) hour launch break inclusive of the normal eight (8) hours per-day work instead of the 30-minutes and forty-eight (48) hours per-weekly work.

The Law clearly defines working hours, overtime, leaves, definite and indefinite contracts, redundancy, dismissal and terminations as well as extended maternity privileges. It also defines set penalties for could be violators and benefits for affected employee or employees. It encourages the formation of workers’ unions and associations in workplaces and gives workers the right to join union of their chose, in line with ILO Fundamental Right Conventions 87 and 98 which call for Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining between Managements and workers as a means of promoting industrial peace and harmony in the workplace.

Importantly, it provides the opportunities for both employers and employees to be heard under the law considering that one can do without the other.

Have Workers started to benefit from provisions of this Law?

Since the coming enforce of the Decent Work Act on March 1, 2016, the Ministry of Labor, which is charged with responsibilities to administer and regulate the Labor sector of Liberia, has supervised and ensured full compliance to the law in the interest of industrial peace and national security.  The Ministry has ensured that workers working in the private and public sectors (not civil servants) are paid in line with the minimum wage as set forth in the Decent Work Act of 2015 as well as supervise the payment of benefits to workers by employers and managements for unfair labor practices meted against them.

For instance, from the period, February to December 2018, the Ministry of Labor, under the leadership of Minister Moses Y. Kollie, supervised the payment of over several of Million United States Dollars and Millions Liberian Dollars to aggrieved workers for redundancy, wrongfully dismissals and other labor violations to workers including workers of the APM Terminal, dismissed workers of the company carrying out renovation of the Executive Mansion, BEE Mountain, Sethi Brothers and workers of several other institutions across the country.

Unfortunately, these workers do not come back to the public or the media to inform them of the role Ministry of Labor played in ensuring that their respective managements paid their just benefits in line with the Decent Act of Liberia or to acknowledged efforts by the Minister of Labor and his team in supervising said payments.

The Ministry has conducted series of regular labor inspections exercise to ensure that workers are working under conducive environment and supervised the holding of peaceful free and fair unions’ representation elections at several workplace across the country.

In keeping with Decent Work Act, the Ministry of Labor under the watch of Minister Kollie have constituted the National Tripartite Council (NTC), comprising the Liberia Labor Congress (LLC) representing workers, the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) representing employers, and Ministry of Labor for the GOL. This body is expected to oversee the sitting up of the Minimum Wage Board which will from time to time review and make recommendation to national government for the determination of a new minimum wage.

Are there challenges in the implementation of Decent Work Act or new Labour law of Liberia? 

Despite these significant achievements of Decent Work Act in a short period of its implementation, there are huge challenges in the way of the successful implementation of the law. Specifically, when comes to the implementation and enforcement of policies, regulations and administration in an environment such as the labor sector, end users of the law (Workers and employers), must fully be educated to intent of the law.

One key challenge in the implementation and enforcement of compliance to the Decent Work Act on the part of the Ministry of Labor is that Ministry has not been able to effectively popularized and provide the needed education and awareness on the Decent Work Act to workplaces across the country. It is now three years since the enforcement of law took effect. To date, the Ministry of Labor and her partners have not been able to conduct full awareness and to disseminate the law to workers and workplaces throughout the country because of capacity and logistical challenges. It was expected that more and more copies of the law would have been produced by now and distributed at all workplaces across the country and education provided to workers to enable them understand and appreciate provisions therein for compliance. Thanks to the ILO Liberia Office for producing one thousand copies forward distribution to the labor sector by Ministry of Labor.

Howbeit, the responsibility of providing education and enlightenment of the law to workers does not only lie within the purview of the Ministry of Labor, but trade unions, workers’ associations, employers/managements as well as other actors in the labor sector of the country.

It is believed that, if workers are well informed of the benefits and protections the law has in it for them as well as their dos and don’ts in the workplace, workers and employers relations would improve to an appreciable level thereby reducing unnecessary workers’ actions.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I would like to remind the general public, particularly workers and the Liberian media community that as long as employers and employees relationship will continue to exist, there will always be labor related problems. This is not only unique with Liberia, it happens the world over. Watch and listen to international media daily and you will understand what is going on in the world of work.

It is based on this reason that the International Labor Organization (ILO) was established in 1919 to develop conventions and recommendations to ensure a stable work environment in the world. The ILO is the oldest organ of the United Nations.

In this light, we want to encourage all actors of the labor sector of Liberia to seek the intervention of the Ministry of Labor whenever they have problems at their places of work as the ministry has overly said that it is committed to ensuring that the rights of workers and employers are protected at all times in keeping with the Decent Work Act of Liberia.

Finally, we also want to call on all media institutions in the country to counter check their information before going public so as to remain professional and stop spreading falsehood about the workings of the Ministry of Labor.

Note: That view express in the article is of the Author and not of the Ministry of Labor…

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About Cholo Brooks 13519 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.