The controversial Decent Work Bill (DWB) which Liberians have craved for and awaited for years is at the verge of taking effect as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has swiftly signed the bill into law after it was passed by the national Legislature last month.
President Sirleaf signed the bill, which spent about five years in the corridors of the National Legislature, on Friday June 26 at a special ceremony organized by the Ministry of Labor (MOL) and held at the Foreign Ministry.
The bill will practically take effect as a law after it is printed into handbills and copies obtained by relevant stakeholders in the labor sector as well as members of the general public.
The Decent Work Bill was presented to the Legislature in 2010 for passage, and after lengthy debates for over five years, the bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives, but chapter five of the bill, which is the minimum wage portion, became the most controversial aspect further delaying its passage for years.
The Legislature in May passed the bill, which set wages for all workers in the formal sector, including concessions, industries businesses, companies, etc., known as skilled workers, at US$5.50 per day or US$0.68 per hour. Domestic and casual workers or unskilled workers’ wages were set at US$3.50 per day or US$0.43 per hour.
Deliberations during the emergence of the DWB set the threshold for minimum wage at US$6.00 per hour, while the House of Representatives went up US$7.20 per hour.
President Sirleaf, before signing, expressed conviction that the bill will improve working conditions and benefits of the Liberian labor force and enhance transparency, integrity and honesty in the work place.
She affixed her signature on the voluminous document in the presence of Labor and business representatives, including the Liberia National Labor Congress (LNLC), Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC), and Liberia Business Association (LIBA). These were led by Labor Minister Neto Zarzar Lighe. Also in attendance were officials of the Ministry of State, including her Legal Advisor, Cllr. Seward Cooper, who worked on her behalf.
She commended the Legislature and major stakeholders who contributed to the formulation and subsequent passage of the bill but regretted the absence of members of the National Legislature, especially sponsors of the bill in both Houses, who worked very hard to ensure its passage.
She admitted that enforcing laws in the country remains a major challenge, however assuring government’s determination to apply the law and calling on government officials to set examples.
She reminded the gathering about the benefits of the newly passed Small Business Act which allots 25 percent of procurement funding in government to small Liberian businesses. She called on LIBA and its offspring associations as well as its numerous members across the country to take advantage of the opportunities that this Act provides in order to improve their businesses and their livelihoods.
Minister Lighe lauded the President for her role in the formulation and passage of the bill and for agreeing to have a public signing ceremony. He commended the Legislature for the passage of the law, describing the entire process as a milestone that is appreciated by the country’s partners in the labor sector.
He noted that the MOL will work in creating awareness on the new law, after being printed into handbills, before full implementation.
Representing the LCC was its Vice President, Tony Hage, a well known Lebanese businessman, who described the law as a good one and hoped it will help spur economic growth and development in the country. “We must exert every effort to ensure economic growth in Liberia. The road to economic growth requires the efforts of everyone.”
Mr. Hage, who said that former LCC boss, Monie Captan, was very instrumental in drafting what is known today as the Decent Work Bill, said Liberians must strive for economic growth and not just the law because it is the latter that creates jobs and not the former. The LCC is the largest employers’ organization in Liberia.
Mr. Maxwell Kemayah praised the government for the passage and subsequent signing into the law of the bill. He commended President Sirleaf for the appointment of Minister Lighe in that capacity and indicated that for the first time indigenous Liberian businesses, were represented at the ILO Congress in Geneva through Lighe’s leadership.
Mr. Kemayah described the new law as a win-win situation for employees and employers alike, adding that it will promote high standards, motivation, productivity and economic growth.
Meanwhile, the purposes of the DWB are, among other things, to promote the attainment of decent work in the country by establishing a regulatory environment, which facilitates continuing and further creation of quality employment; the ability of all to exercise their rights at work, a measure of social protection, and participation in institutions and processes of social dialogue.