25 March 2014

Liberia: 'Wage Bill Stalemate' - Worker Unions Engage Lawmakers

Monrovia — Workers union leaderships from all concessions and major companies in the country have expressed fear that their respective members (workers) are threatening a mass go-slow action if the continuous delays over the passage of the minimum wage bill.

Expressing their concerns during a one day interaction with the Chairmen of the House and Senate Committees on Labor, the Deputy Labor Minister for Man Power and Planning and the Ministry of Labor Assistant Minister for Trade Union Affairs, the unionists stressed that they are being pressured by their people to ensure that the Government pass into law the US$6.00 as the minimum wage in Liberia.

During the more than two-hour dialogue at the headquarters of United Workers' Union (UWU) in JJY Community, Gardnesville several issues pertaining to the status of the bill and workers' concerns were highlighted.

Speaking earlier during the discussion, Ministry of Labor (MoL) Deputy Minister for Man Power and Planning, Neto Zaza Lighe said the round table discussion was important because it would avert any potential go-slow action, something that could have an adverse effect on companies in the country and even the National budget.

According to the Deputy Minister, expert analysis has established and recommended US$ 4.80 as the minimum wage instead of the US$6.00 per day. The MOL and House committee on Labor clarified that the figure was suggested by the experts after numerous studies in 18 West African countries. A series of studies was done and another by the Department of Economics at the University of Liberia corroborated with results from the foreign experts, according to the MOL.

On the passage of the bill by the House of Representatives, Rep. Christian Chea, Chairman of the House committee on Labor, agreed that the bill has over stayed and his statement hinted that several political and legal processes at the level of the executive and the Legislature have created the delays.

Rep. Chea assured the Workers' Unions Leadership that a joint resolution between the Upper and Lower House has been agreed and he's hopeful of the new version introduce shortly on the floor of the House's plenary by the Speaker. He said all parties stand to enjoy political relevance once the bill is passed into law.

Despite the experts' views and suggestions, the Chair on the House Labor Committee reaffirmed his committee's support for the US46.00 version of the bill stressing that it will be impossible for them to accept two versions of the bill.

Rep. Chea pleaded with the Unionists to abandon any go-slow plan and continue to engage in dialogue which he assured will yield the right results. The Workers then requested Rep. Chea to give a specific time frame as to when the bill will pass considering the level of pressure they face from their fellow workers. The President of the Liberia Agriculture Workers Union (LAWU) said if a time frame is given the Lawmakers it will ensure they work proactively for the speedy passage of the bill.

For his part, the Chair of the Senate Labor Committee, Senator Matthew Jay (River Gee County) outlined that it is the optimism of the Senate that the bill is speedily pass, adding that it will be embarrassing for he and other officials of government to attend the upcoming International Labor Organization (ILO) conference in Geneva, Switzerland once the bill remains in limbo at the Legislature.

It has been reported that the ILO has threatened to reduce support from the Liberian Labor sector if the bill is persistently delay. The President of the COCOPA Rubber Plantation Workers Union in Nimba County said that the situation of the bill was at its melting point in the county, adding that workers might protest soon if there's continues delays.

While the Worker Union President of Arcelor- Mittal, Chea Romeo Brooks wants the House committee to consider occupational health and safety issue considering the disadvantages in certain working sector. Baryo Wallace, Secretary General of the Petroleum Union, said workers in the country are tired of waiting for the bill passage, stressing that workers will bounce back if they are being continuously pushed to the wall.

When FrontPage Africa spoke with several Unionists after the interaction, they termed the meeting as unsuccessful, giving the numerous down-turns the bill-passage has encountered over the years and that they anticipated a more positive response from the government as to the time the bill will pass. Firestone Workers Union President, Austin Nyanti said the last resolve will be a mass go-slow by workers all over the country, something he said is the only action that will pressure government over the matter.

For over 5 years now the minimum wage bill has lingered between the lower and upper Houses of the National Legislature prompting several observers and lawmakers to assert that the bill is being delayed on political background and the argument about who gets political relevance - Senate, Representatives or Executive- once the bill is passed.

Early this year, Trade and Workers Unions from across the country toke a one day go-slow action which was in solidarity with their leaders who had travelled at the Capitol to present a petition to the National Legislature for the speedy passage of the minimum wage bill.

The Unionists say if the lawmakers in concurrence passed the bill, it will be difficult for the president to reject whatever version sent to her for approval. Workers have, however, promise to wait until the end of the month to hear again from the Lawmakers.

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