Open Letter to President Weah on the Salary Reduction Proposal

We want to use this time to congratulate you, President George Manneh Weah, on your ascendancy to the highest office in our country and for your commitment to seeing the people of Liberia lifted from poverty through your “Pro-Poor Agenda.”

Mr. President, we commend you on the steps you are taking towards achieving your goals and dreams and want to take this time to introduce to you the Association of Liberian Human Resources Professionals, a network of practicing human resources professionals across all sectors of Liberia. We are proud to note that we have more than 100 registered members and 50 associate members. One of our goals is to encourage standardization of processes across sectors, policy reviews on legislation, as well as strengthening the capacity of our members.

Mr. President, we listened with keen interest on April 25, 2018, when you mentioned several measures aimed at achieving the government’s Pro-Poor Agenda, including the reduction of salaries for ministers of government and heads of autonomous agencies across the executive branch of government, with a 10 percent reduction across the board for all cabinet ministers. The decision of the cabinet went on to include civil and public servants who earn above US$1,000 with the implementation of this decision effective May 2018 payroll.

We recognize your effort in trying to  identify a “means to support national development that will impact the lives of the poor people and to ensure that money is not wasted,” and as an attempt to support you in the process, we would like to remind you of the legal instruments that we have been working with and the present or future potential effects.

The current Decent Work Act of 2016 states:

Mr. President, the labor law does not allow arbitrary deduction in the salary of any employee without the employee’s written consent. To make any deduction in the salary of an employee outside of their written consent would be in violation of the law.

Additionally, the Civil Service Standing Order which covers all civil servants in Liberia also does not allow a reduction in salary of a civil servant outside of disciplinary purposes. The Standing Order states:

The Appointing Authority may reduce the salary of an employee for disciplinary purposes. The Appointing Authority shall state whether a reduction in salary is permanent or temporary and if  temporary  shall  give  the  conditions  or  date  upon  which  the  salary is to be restored. Such statement shall be in writing to the  employee  with  a  copy  to  the  DirectorGeneral  prior  to  the  effective date of such salary reduction.

Mr. President, without reason of specific disciplinary purpose, there cannot be a reduction in salary. Even then, it has to be clearly stated in writing the duration of the reduction in salary – again, only for reason of disciplinary purposes.

Mr. President, Liberia is also a member of the International Labor Organization and is bound by the various conventions. As such, we bring your attention to the specific one on Protection of Wages:

Deductions from wages shall be permitted only under conditions and to the extent prescribed by national laws or regulations or fixed by collective agreement or arbitration award.

Currently, our research has not discovered any national law that supports arbitrary deduction in the salary of employees. Anything outside of that would contravene our laws.

Your Excellency, accepting that reduction in salaries is not legal without the consent of ordinary employees, the case of presidential appointees may be different, where appointees may be duty bound to accept a policy decision by their appointing authority to reduce their salaries.

It would be prudent to note that employees hired within the mainline government ministries, who are hired through the Civil Service Agency are considered civil servants. They are governed by the framework of the Civil Service Standing Order, while employees hired by state-owned enterprises, agencies, and authorities are considered public servants and are governed by the Decent Work Act.

For further clarification, the Standing Order defines a civil servant as “a person of Liberian citizenship, above the age of 17 years who has, through the merit-based employment system, and by passing the civil service examination, been employed in a position in the Civil Service.”

Along that line, a public servant is categorized as “a person employed and compensated by the Liberian government, with the exception of one subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Your Excellency, these are two separate, distinct categories of employees.

Mr. President, beyond the legal issues which we have herein raised, our collective experience as HR professionals shows that slashing salaries in the face of rising prices and overall costs of living without compensating for the disparity through the provision of other incentives could be a disincentive to improving productivity, lead to further brain drain in the public sector, and may adversely impact upon your stated desire to fight corruption in the public bureaucracy.

We, therefore, appeal to you, Mr. President, to restrict the salary reduction to presidential appointees who provided consent during the last meeting of your cabinet. Please spare the struggling doctors, engineers, administrators, technicians, and other professionals in the public service who have not given their legal consent to deduct from their salaries. These employees are working diligently to make the country better and to help your government to succeed.

Please be assured, Mr. President, of the continued support and willingness of the HR Association to work with your administration to improve the conditions of workers and the working environment in the country.

We applaud you, Mr. President, for upholding the rule of law in this sweet land of liberty.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Jonah Soe Kotee
President of the Association of Liberian Human Resource Professionals (ALHRP)

Featured photo by TaxRebate.org.uk

Jonah Soe Kotee

Jonah Soe Kotee is the president of the Association of Liberian Human Resource Professionals and director of human resources at Partners in Health/Liberia, a Harvard-affiliated international NGO that has partnered with the government of Liberia to strengthen health systems.

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