Recent movements within the corridors of the Capitol Building by members of the Conference Committee on the Decent Work Bill, of both the Senate and House of Representatives indicate that a decision is near.
Our Legislative correspondent last Tuesday observed some members of the Conference Committee of the House discussing the Bill and visiting offices of their counterparts in the Senate. Among them was Grand Bassa Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence, in particular, who heads the Senate committee.
The Legislature’s decision to pass the bill sooner than later may have been prompted by the local labor congress’ recent threats of a total lockdown of the workforce of the country unless the Legislators speedily pass the Decent Work Bill.
The decision as to what amount will be legislated as the minimum wage for both public and private workers in Liberia will be brought to the plenary of the Senate within two weeks.
It may be recalled that the Senate plenary last month voted to accept a request by its Conference Committee for two weeks extension of its mandate to reconcile between the two amounts voted on by the two Houses as the threshold for a minimum wage. The Senate voted for US$6.00 per day while US$7.00 per day was voted on by the House of Representatives.
The conference committee’s two weeks extended mandate was prompted by a request from Nimba County ranking Senator Prince Johnson for an update on the status of the lingering Decent Work Bill.
The current chair of the Committee, Senator Karnga-Lawrence, in a brief verbal report to the plenary, informed her colleagues that the Conference Committees of both Houses have held three separate meetings and that a breakthrough would soon be announced.
The issue of the Decent Work Bill started as far back as 2009, when it was first introduced by the 2nd Session of the House of Representatives. Since then it has been debated under the leadership of several Speakers and Pro Tempores. But the sticky issue remains finding an acceptable threshold as a minimum wage for both skilled and unskilled workers.
The House had earlier passed the Decent Work Bill, but without a threshold as a minimum wage, and sent it to the Senate for concurrence.
The Senate sent a debated version back to the House of Representatives that contained the amount of US$6.00 per day as the minimum wage, and set up a conference committee to work with their colleagues in the Lower House.
The Lower House, “after deliberation, passed the Bill into the full force of the law on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 during its regular session…”
A communication from the House of Representatives then under the signature of Chief Clerk Mildred Siryon, noted that the addendum to the minimum wage as passed by the Lower House and Senate conference committee, set the minimum wage for a skilled professional employee at US$0.75 an hour, amounting to US$6.00 per day and US$156.00 a month.
Domestic or unskilled employee minimum wage was agreed at US$0.40 per hour, US$4.00 per day, and US$104.00 a month. The Conference Committee acknowledged the function of the National Wage Board to review wages after every two years.
The Senate accepted the recommendation of the joint Conference Committee. However, the House of Representatives decided to amend the joint recommendation and set the minimum wage at US$7.00 per day.
The Senate plenary again agreed for another conference committee with the mandate that Senate maintains its original decision as passed on Thursday, September 10, 2013. The plenary at that sitting concurred with the joint conference committee of both the Senate and House of Representatives to pass the Decent Work Bill without amendment at US$0.75 an hour and US$6.00 a day.