Liberia: Rep. Tarponweh Submits Bill Seeking to Amend Decent Work Act of 2015

Monrovia — Representative Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh (District #1, Margibi County) has presented a bill before the Plenary of the House of Representatives seeking to amend parts of the Decent Work Act of 2015.

In his communication to Plenary on Thursday, Representative Tarponweh craved the indulgence of his colleagues to amend sections 22.1, 30b, 30.2a, and chapters 22, 30 and 37 of the Decent Work Act to allow workers transitioning to retirement from their various workplaces receive their just benefits from their employers.

Representative Tarponweh said since the passage of the act, concessionaires have been reneging to honor their obligations to directly pay retirement benefits to their retired workers, using chapter 22.1 as a reliance, something he said has triggered lot of contentions and contradictions.

Chapter 22.1 states that: "This Chapter (Social Welfare) does not apply to an employer who is or who becomes: a) Required to fulfill a comparable obligation under a pension scheme administered by the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP) under the National Social Security and Welfare Law as amended; and b) Registered with NASSCORP; and c) Compliant with their obligations under regulations relating to a pension scheme administered by NASSCORP."

In his communication accompanying the bill, Rep. Tarponweh argued that the Decent Work Act has been hurting workers' rights which employers have been using to their advantages.

"When this law was passed in 2015, it was seen as one of the best instruments for workers' rights. I don't view it as decent; it's indecent and suppresses the workers' rights," he wrote in his communication.

Those who are happy about the 'anti-worker' law are employers, adding that the employers in question are quick to vilely quote the law contrary to the letter, intent and spirit of the Decent Work Act (DWA).

He noted that the decision by concessionaires not to directly pay retirement benefits to their retirees as clearly provided for in chapter 22.2 of the Decent Work Act has been a point of contention since 2015 as concessionaires continue to refer retirees to NASSCORP for payment of retirement pension benefits contrary to their employment contracts.

As servants of the people, he said the Legislature should intervene now and stop Liberian workers from being used as "disposable goods."

"The law is the law. There is a need to amend these sections. Retirees and current employees of various concessions feel unprotected with the one sided applications of the Decent Work Act."

Representative Tarponweh also stressed that a worker's union that is part of a workforce and duly registered must be represented at a bargaining table but not an outside union called "mother union", citing Section 37.1 of the DWA.

Following the reading of the bill by the Deputy Chief Clerk, Gbarpolu County Representative, Alfred Koiwood proffered a motion to send the bill to the House's Committees on Judiciary and Labor to review and report to Plenary in two weeks, and it was endorsed.

Many employees and trade unions celebrated the passage of the law in 2015, with the hope that that it will address some of the inequalities and unfair treatment meted against them. But five years since the law came into force, many workers continue to fall prey from employers' actions.

In March 2019, one of Liberia's biggest concessionaires, Firestone Liberia announced changes in its employee pension program. The company ceased to directly pay their retirees' pension benefits, while referring them to NASSCORP.

The announcement led to the company's retirees staging series of protests at the company's vicinity.

The Firestone Agriculture Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), through its leadership, called on the Margibi County Legislative Caucus to intervene in reviewing the entire Decent Work Act.

On March 2021, Rep. Tarponweh, who chairs the Margibi County Legislative Caucus, held a stakeholders' meeting with the NASSCORP and some worker unions of Liberia to critically discuss the Decent Work Act.

Mr. Winston Q. Jah, who spoke on behalf of NASSCORP, said that the National Social Security Law does not stop Firestone Liberia Company from paying their personal pension benefits to their retired workers.

Rep. Tarponweh has been at the forefront of advocating for employees of Firestone since the company embarked on laying off most of its workers due to what it calls unfavorable market condition.

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