16 January 2013

Liberia: Labor to Dissolve Trade Unions - As Bakers' Unions Unite

The Ministry of Labour has warned that it will no longer accredit breakaway trade and labour unions and that several existing unions may face decertification if they fail to meet regulations for their existence required under the country's labour law.

"We will no longer accept unions splitting and coming to the Ministry for certificate," Assistant Labor Minister for Trade Union Affairs Michael Wah stated Tuesday (Jan 15) at programs marking the signing of an MOU of merger between the National Chefs Baker & Allied Workers Union and the United Baker Union of Liberia at the headquarters of the Liberia Labor Congress (LLC) in Gardnersville, outside Monrovia.

The organization will now be called National Chefs Bakers, Allied Workers & United Bakers Union of Liberia.

No Room For Breakaways

Wah said labour unions in Liberia, including the LCC, were too weak and less effective as compared to those in other countries. He insisted that there was need to have strong trade and labour unions that will represent the voices of Liberian workers and take decision that stand nationwide.

Though the President of the LLC Elitha T. Manning earlier accused the Ministry of fractionalizing trade and labour unions in the country, Wah differed and noted that multiplicity of these unions--especially breakaways--was not the best thing to do and that the Labor Ministry will not tolerate such.

"What we will do," he said in an interview later, "is to ensure that unions that have confusion can come to us and we ... solve those problems; but, again, the right to associate also exists under our constitution...under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights... and under the International Labour Convention."

He said the Ministry will not stop people from associating and forming unions, "but what it will do is not to allow unions to split."

Decertification of Unions

Wah disclosed that as provided for under the labor laws, the Ministry has begun visiting the headquarters of all labour and trade unions to verify their compliance with the laws, warning that those who fail to meet compliance will have themselves to blame.

The Assistant Minister said all trade union organizations are to have an office space, a well set up payroll and a financial statement that is audited periodically and sent to the Ministry of Labor.

Unfortunately, he said, "that is not happening, and because it is not happening we who certificate have the power to de-certificate, and we are prepared to de-certificate unions that will not live up to the labor laws of this country."

He said these requested records from unions, among others, inform the Ministry of what these unions have done over the years as representatives of workers.

"Workers are paying them and they must tell us what they are doing with the workers' money; that is not accountability--you can't be accusing the government of being corrupt and you can't be accountable to your own people."

The Minister lauded the National Chefs Baker & Allied Workers Union and the United Baker Union of Liberia for uniting to work in the interest of their members and the country in general.

"The Minister of Labor is happy this unity, it is the best way to go; when united, you can do better and greater things," he asserted, while addressing the jubilant gathering. He said the Ministry want to see in Liberia a very "strong, well structured and a well organized union," that will speak with a powerful voice and have the capacity to muster thousands of people to stand a cause.

Wah described the MOU of merger between the National Chefs Baker & Allied Workers Union and the United Baker Union of Liberia as "the beginning of what to come."

Labour Divides Unions

LLC President Madam Manning earlier challenged the two unions never to break away from each others as they were now considered one union, warning unions in the country to cease taking grievances to the Ministry of Labour.

Madam Manning challenged the two groups to remain genuine in their decisions to unite and stand up against vices that would tend to disunite them, urging them to learn how to resolve their differences in house, preferable through the LCC, rather than through the Ministry of Labour.

"The Government likes to see confusion, but we the workers should unite and solve our problem in house," she continued. "Don't go to Labor Ministry; it will be tough. If you go to Labor, they will scatter us and put us asunder."

However, Assistant Minister Wah (the statement was made in his absence) told this paper later that the Labour Ministry is the best place to settle labor disputes. "That's why the Ministry was establish; people believe in the Ministry and that's why the come there with their cases."

Madam Manning said she was speaking from experience. "Come to Labor Congress, we will help you solve the problem...if you go to Labour, they will make you broke and you will live in 'sell-pay'."

Dream For Modern Bakery

For part, the head of the defunct National Chefs Baker & Allied Workers Union Amos Tengbeh said they were now focused on working to secure loans and financial supports to construct a modern bakery in Liberia to be owned and operated by indigenous Liberians.

Tengbeh lamented that securing capital to build a modern bakery like those being operated by Lebanese and other nationals was quite difficult and appealed to the Central bank of Liberia, the Liberia Business Association and other financial institutions to help them.

He noted that all the modern bakeries in the country were owned by foreigners while Liberians were still operating old fashion bakeries.

The two bakery unions, he said, have now decided to put behind their past differences, work on a united front to seek the wellbeing and interest of local Chefs and bakers of Liberia, as a way of contributing to strengthening the country's economy and nits rebuilding process.

A Decade of Nothingness

Also making remarks, the head of the erstwhile United Bakers Union T. Jonathan Momoh said he was compelled to establish his faction because the defunct National Chefs Baker & Allied Workers Union had existed for nine years without making any impact.

He said almost a decade was too long for nothing concrete to be done to improve the organization and seek the wellbeing and interest of they who are the suffering bakers.

"That was the reason why we came out with the United Bakers Union of Liberia, but we have now agreed to come back together to move forward," he said.

Dozens of chef and bakers as well as officials of the LLC and government ministries graced yesterday's occasion, and the union's members broke into celebration after the MOU was officially signed.

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