OP-ED: A Labor Day Message from the Liberia Human Resources Professionals

May 1, celebrated as International Labor Day, is a time to reflect on how having a decent, motivated, and valued workforce can unite employees and promote economic growth and social development growth in Liberia.

Labor Day celebration is germane to our efforts in consolidating the economic gains made so far by the Liberian government and also using the same as a groundwork for understanding the dream of transforming the Liberian workforce from laborer-based to a new and flourishing country.

Today, the Association of Liberian Human Resources Professionals celebrates Labor Day at a time when Liberia has enjoyed peace and stability for 15 years. However, while there is peace and stability, the economy is not thriving, and the country isn’t attracting investors who can stimulate economic growth and create more jobs for Liberians.

While other employees are enjoying in other parts of the world, many workers in Liberia are still not being paid on time. Worker salaries have been arbitrarily deducted and more deductions are still pending in the public sectors. Some workers have been bullied and even dismissed because of their political affiliations. Additionally, workers in the public sector still lack the right to peacefully assemble as a union to bargain for better work environments. Yet, we can still celebrate May 1 amid all the challenges.

Fellow employees, while we seem determined as a country and employers to create a better and decent work environment for everyone in the informal and formal sectors, many organizations in the public and private sectors are still operating way below capacity or have shut down or scaled down, leaving many of our brother and sisters unemployed.  Many workers are also being laid off day-by-day or made jobless due to controllable and uncontrollable circumstances.

Subsequently, most of our goods in Liberia, including basic essential goods, are still being imported from neighboring countries with high tariffs, increasing the price on the local market that even reduces the purchasing power of employees. The labor force in Liberia is therefore not making a progressive contribution to the economic growth of Liberia through manufacturing production.

Today, visit stores around Liberia and not many Liberians are behind the counters. Not many Liberians have access to loans to open their own business. Not many tables of shops and superstores in Liberia are stockpiled with locally made products. The renaissance of the industrial sector has contributed very little to employment opportunities in Liberia in the area of tax revenue and improvement of Liberia balance of payment position.

In addition, because of the lack of sustainable economic activities, Liberia’s inflation rate was recorded at 28.50 percent in December of 2018; with an average of 8.67 percent from 1968 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 28.50 percent in December of 2018. While the government is making efforts to stimulate the economy, we still see a skyrocketing foreign exchange rate, thereby increasing the prices of commodities on the local market.

We encourage our government to do more by exploring sustainable measures to stabilize the rate. This can be done through creating investment opportunities in the agricultural and tourism sectors, connecting farm-to-market roads, investing in domestic transportation, investing in Liberian entrepreneurship, creating access to financing for local businesses, investing in stable and affordable electricity for all Liberians, and above all, creating an empowered and stable business environment that will help to revitalize our economy.

We also want to commend the government for the issuance of Executive Order 96, which extended the tenure of work permit to five years. However, foreigners need more than a relaxed work permit process – they will also be attracted by a conducive business environment.

We also want to call for the investigation and prosecution of any politician or employees involved in financial malpractices. Losing taxes to corrupt officials without any prosecutions is unfair to the workforce and will be the worst thing employees of Liberia will ever face, as it will keep people living in poverty.

Under this year’s theme for Labor Day celebration, ‘Uniting Workers for Social and Economic Advancement,’ to keep employees united for social and economic growth, our workplaces must be free of all sorts of harassment.

Additionally, the numbers of female workers must increase – companies must give opportunities to women to work. The physically and mentally disabled must all be given the opportunity to work and not stigmatized based on their conditions. Employees must be able to take a decent salary for social protection for their families. Employees must not be seen as tools or machines but as assets through which the organization survives.

Arbitrary pay deductions must not be applicable to employees as a means for government or any organization to institute their austerity measures. To keep the workforce united, public sector employees must have the right to unionize to make a case for a decent and better work environment. The Civil Service Standing Order and Decent Work Act must be merged as one document to promote decent work and economic growth in total.

To have a united workforce for social and economic advancement, there must be programs to develop the skills set of the youthful population of Liberia to enable them to compete for jobs of their desires.

The Association of Liberian Human Resources Professionals, therefore, is pushing to influence all Liberian leaders to advocate in general for increasing the value of hard work and a decent work environment for all. By working, it is the only way Liberians can walk out of the trap of poverty. I, therefore, urge all Liberians to grow an optimistic attitude to work.

Featured photo courtesy of Roza Carpet

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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