FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

25 April 2014

Liberia: Decent Work Glitch - Lawmakers Battle Over Minimum Wage

The push to get a minimum wage for Liberia seems to be meeting some glitches and two of Montserrado County's lawmakers Rep. Acarous M. Gray (Montserrado-District #8) and Rep. Edwin M. Snowe (Montserrado-District #6) are locked in the counter argument over who's stalling the Bill and who wants a motion for reconsideration.

The two lawmakers have taken to the airwaves as it became clear that Rep. Snowe is prepared to test a motion for reconsideration when the Legislature returns from its Easter break but Rep. Gray thinks the lawmaker is trying to stall the passage of the bill.

"I think what is happening in my opinion is a political wedge that is being thrown to stall the passage of the decent work bill by the motion to reconsider. If any Liberian believes in the decency of the workforce of the Republic of Liberia, they will not stand against the passage of the decent work bill on trivial matters," said Rep. Gray in an interview with FrontPageAfrica at his Capitol Building office on Wednesday.

Continued Gray: "I think in my opinion, those who have counter argued that if the wage is at US$4, many persons will not get jobs; I disagree, even in the most sophisticated economies around the world like the great United States of America there will always be a time where a company could go bankrupt and there would be downsizing. So the scare tactics of saying that if the wage is maintained for nonprofessionals by US$4 and professionals at US$7 per day, that could decrease the work force, I strongly disagree. I think it brings upliftment to the workforce."

Gray wants Rep. Snowe to abandon his quest to seek a motion for reconsideration, he intends to submit to his colleagues when they return because the Legislative body that worked on the bill has already done its homework.

Our decision on the passage filed by Hon. Snowe, I believe that he should drop that motion in the interest of those who even work in his electoral district and for those who even work for foreigners in his district that are being underpaid," said Gray.

"I believe they deserve a better living and if you want to have a farm for example, or plantation, you should be able to pay your people well. For me basically I committed myself during the period of the elections to support the passage of the decent work bill because it has been here before we became lawmakers. On the basis of my own commitment to my people I thought that had I not supported the decent work bill, it would have been a betrayal of what I believe in."

But Rep. Snowe would have none of it and has stressed that he will submit his letter stating the motion before his colleagues when they return next week.

"I am cutting short my travels; I will submit my letter to my colleagues on Thursday. If my colleagues throw it out, I'll look to the Senate; if the Senate passes it, I will look to the President to veto it. If the president does not veto it and signs it into law, then that's it," said Rep. Snowe in a mobile phone interview with FrontPageAfrica from Brussels.

Snowe argues that his colleagues are not technocrats and therefore should not rush to set a minimum wage, adding that they should employ the expertise of agencies clothed with the authority to do so adding that the decision by the legislature to set the wage is a political one.

"I don't have a problem if the amount is too high or too small, that's not the issue. The issue is as long we have a Minimum wage board and the responsibility of the board is to review the economic situation of the country periodically and set the minimum wage. With the existence of the board, for the legislature to go and set a minimum wage is a political decision," he said.

Continued Snowe: "I think the minimum wage of the workforce is not just minimum, but it should be minimum and high wage because you've got some people in Liberia that make $100 a month and you've got some people who make $25,000 a month. The disparity is just too high, so the board should be left with the responsibility to set the minimum wage and the highest standard so that the disparity is not high and it is based on the prevailing economic situation of the country."

The lawmaker contends that there has been no analysis from agencies such as the Central Bank of Liberia, the ministry of Planning, which is merged with the ministry of finance to do analysis to know the capita per household income and it is just based on sentiment from lawmakers in setting a minimum wage.

"I believe the decision by the Legislature is political and the decision to set a minimum wage should be based on financial and economic analysis other than political reason," he said.

For me I want to set a precedence I pray that my colleagues will see the reason in depoliticizing the minimum wage. April 14, a group of Liberians came and said rice could be sold at $9 per bag, hey did not look at the impact; it was not a reality-there was big confusion. There was no economic analysis done, it was based on political popularity."

He said the bill, which is based on a one-page report from the committee has no provision for overtime or holidays, something that only a minimum wage board would state.

For the poor

But for Representative Gray, he said he is people centered man who would not betray the 'masses' he represents and it is something he is willing to fight for at all levels.

"I support the decent work bill because I am from a very disadvantaged community I've seen how our parents that works on the plantations; our parents that work for foreigners have been abused and underpaid. So the decent work bill is not only about setting the minimum wage as being argued by people," said Gray.

"It is also about providing job security for our people and seeking the welfare of our people. On the basis of that, I must support the passage of the decent work bill.

Let me say this and I want to be very clear about that, that when the senate passed the decent work bill at a little over US$6 we amended that version to a little over US$7 per day. Too many of us voted for the passage, unfortunately in my view for us to come now and pass the decent work bill on a second term after a conference committee was established and maybe one or two persons saying that it is still high and they voted for the US$7 initially when we had reduced it to US$4 initially for non professionals per day and US$6 for professionals per day (a minimum wage)."

Gray disagrees with his colleague when he says that the members of the committee that worked on the bill were not 'technocrats'. "I disagree when it was said that there was no hearing because I know that the House of Representatives Committee and the House of Senate committee met," he said. They invited the labor minister, they invited the head of the chamber of commerce, they invited the ILO representative that provided an expert analysis and other people."

"The presentation of the general body was from a well-informed source on the basis of those who control the work force of the Republic of Liberia. For anyone to say that the necessary technocrats were not consulted is saddening. It even undermines the professional capacity of those who control the various committees."

After several years of the bill lingering into committee rooms at the National Legislature, Liberian Lawmakers have finally passed it into law in early April setting the threshold at US$6 and US$4 per day at minimum wage for workers. The House of Representatives passed the bill into law after a period of consultation. The decision of the House Plenary followed recommendation made in a report from the Joint Committee on Labor and Judiciary.

The bill was sent back to committee room last week following intense debates in Plenary on the minimum wage set at $5.60 per day for employees as previously recommended in the Report by the Joint Committee on Labor and Judiciary. The bill is forwarded to the Liberian Senate for concurrence.

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