Senate Passes Decent Work Bill

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At long last, the Senate yesterday passed the Decent Work Bill where wage for all workers in the formal sector, including concessions, industries businesses, companies, etc., do not go below US$5.50 per day or US$0.68 per hour.  Domestic and casual workers should be paid at US$3.50 per day or US$0.43 per hour.

The Senate took the decision yesterday when 13 of them voted in favor, four against and one abstention to endorse and subsequently passed recommendations by the joint conference committee of the Houses of Representatives and Senate to set the minimum wage on the Decent Work Bill.

The House of Representatives plenary still needs to concur with the Senate.

Earlier deliberations during the emergence of the Bill had ended by the Senate setting the threshold for minimum wage at US$6.00 per hour, while the House of Representatives went up US$7.20 per hour.

The purposes of the Decent Work Bill 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.

The Bill is to also ensure respect for, and the protection and fulfillment of fundamental rights at work in the country including fundamental rights that are protected by the Constitution of Liberia.

The Decent Work Bill was presented to the Legislature in 2010 for passage, and after several lengthy debates and arguments for over five years, the Bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives plenaries, but chapter five of the Bill, which is the minimum wage portion, had not been reconciled by both plenaries, because of disagreements about the bench mark set for the minimum wage, which resulted into the constitution of several conference committees.

On February 5, 2015, the Senate constituted a new conference committee chaired by Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, to work with the conference committee from the House of Representatives.

In the area concerning working environment, the joint committee said the result from a study conducted indicated 74 percent of establishments do not pay their workers for extra hours worked, while 20 percent and six percent indicated paying extra hours worked at rates of times and a half, and double.

“Considering this unfair labor practice, it is recommended that all establishments should be made to pay their workers for extra hours worked at all times.”

The committee noted its study in the area of social benefits provided for minimum wage earners revealed that all of the establishments in the ten sectors covered are providing hospital benefits to their workers. “However, 75 percent, 74 percent and 72 percent of establishments covered do not provide insurance, education and housing benefits, respectively.”

Considering what the committee described as the crucial nature of those benefits which play a significant role in the lives of workers in terms of easing pressure on their disposable income, “it is recommended that establishments be made to provide the above benefits for their minimum wage earners to improve their livelihood.”

Another recommendation that was passed by the Senate plenary called for establishments to encourage their workers to use banking institutions as sources of credit and promote savings habit in them through sensitization.

The committee said the recommendation became necessary after its study revealed that sources of credit available to minimum wage earners include management, workers, unions, banks and others. Among other things, the committee said the study shows that 92 percent of the establishments provide credit under management, while 8 percent do not; under workers union, 14 percent of the establishments provide credit facilities and 96 percent do not.

With respect to banking institutions, the committee said their study shows 0.3 percent of workers receive credit facilities and 99.7 percent do not receive credit from banks.

In the area of trade unions and wage rate negotiations, the Decent Work Bill Committee disclosed that results from trade union negotiations indicate that 51 percent of the negotiations have yielded no result, 37 percent successful, while 12 percent are pending. “This trend shows that there is some level of lack of effectiveness on the part of the unions in the representation of workers.”

 The passage of the Decent Work Bill comes in the wake of recent messages of threats by labor unions to storm the Capitol Building to demand a minimum wage for their workers.

It may be recalled that the Decent Work Bill and Code of Conduct were two of the long neglected bills that stayed on the shelves of the Legislature for years. The Code of Conduct has since been passed by both Houses.

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