Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization or excessive requirements. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties or government. The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules with regard to electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs. The Liberia Labor Congress (LLC), however, wanted the process leading to the certification of labor unions by the Ministry of Labor revisited. According to the LLC, the Ministry of Labor certified several union organizations that were unable to represent adequately the interest of their members.
The law provides for the right of workers in the private sector to bargain collectively. Public-sector employees and employees of state-owned enterprises are prohibited under the Civil Service Standing Orders from organizing into unions and bargaining collectively, but instead may process grievances through the Civil Service Agency grievance board. Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, the LLC, and the Civil Servants Association stated that the Standing Orders appeared to conflict with Article 17 of the constitution, which affords the right to associate in trade unions. The law also provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, provided they have attempted to negotiate to resolve the issue and give the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and the issuance of threats against union leaders. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. The law prohibits strikes under certain circumstances as follows: if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration; if the issue is already under arbitration or in court; and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and the Liberian Labor Union. The National Tripartite Council has not published a list of essential services.
While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It also does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”
In general the government endeavored to enforce applicable laws in the formal sector, and workers exercised their rights. Employees enjoyed freedom of association, and had the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization or coercion. The law, however, does not provide adequate protection, and some protections depend on whether property damage has occurred and is measurable. Penalties were inadequate to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference.
Union influence continued to increase during the year through increased membership at plantations; there were reports of union-led protest actions in a number of concession areas including plantations, leading to work stoppages or disruptions for days. Labor unions called on the government to enforce laws that would improve work conditions across the country, particularly the Decent Work Act.
In April the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Revenue Authority, and the Liberia Immigration Service conducted a joint nationwide labor inspection exercise to ensure employers complied with the Decent Work Act and all other existing labor laws.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The law prescribes a minimum sentence of one year’s imprisonment for conviction of the trafficking of adults but does not prescribe a maximum sentence; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Families living in the interior of the country sometimes sent young women and children to stay with acquaintances or relatives in Monrovia or other cities with the promise that the relatives would assist the women and children to pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, or beggars. There were reports of forced labor in rubber plantations, gold mines, and alluvial diamond mines. Forced labor continued despite efforts by the government, NGOs, and other organizations to eliminate the practice.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Under the Decent Work Act, most full-time employment of children younger than age of 15 is prohibited. Children older than age 13 but younger than age 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Under the act children age 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and the child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than age 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until age 15.
The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. It was unclear, however, whether such permits were either requested or issued.
According to the law, “a parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act, that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”
The Child Labor Commission (NACOMAL) is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies, although it did not do so effectively, in large part due to inadequate staff and funding. As a result, while labor inspectors were trained on child labor issues, none was specifically assigned to monitor and address child labor. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee)–comprising the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes NACOMAL); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the MGCSP’s Human Rights Division; and the LNP’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section–with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor; however, inspections and remediation were inadequate. Although the National Child Labor Committee convenes regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious challenge. In March 2017 the NACOMAL convened a national conference aimed at reaching a consensus with all stakeholders–including government, private sector, and labor advocates–to eliminate child labor through sustained commitment and partnership. This was the first such conference that convened all of the necessary stakeholders, and resulted in the validation of the National Action Plan on Child Labor (NAP). As of December, however, the NAP had not been endorsed by the government.
The law penalizes employers that violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws with a fine of L$100 ($0.67), and imprisonment until the fine is paid. The law also penalizes parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision with a minimum fine of L$15 ($0.10) but not more than L$25 ($0.17), and imprisonment until such fine is paid. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas, children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms. There were also reports that children worked in conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Some children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining as well as in the agriculture sector. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in garages and shops, and selling goods on Monrovia streets.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Section 2.4(b) of the Decent Work Act prohibits discrimination with respect to equal opportunity for work and employment and calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not in general effectively enforce the law.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in hiring based on gender, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions resisting their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicates women’s pay lagged behind that for men. LGBTI individuals and those with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Decent Work Act, which specifies amounts in U.S. dollars, requires a minimum wage of $0.43 per hour (increased from $0.17 prior to the Decent Work Act’s passage), or $3.50 per day (not exceeding eight hours per day), excluding benefits, for unskilled laborers. This applies to the informal economic sector including domestic, agricultural, and casual workers. The minimum wage for the formal economic sector is $0.68 per hour, or $5.50 per day (not exceeding eight hours per day), excluding benefits. While labor protections are not enforced in the informal sector, the law does fix a minimum wage for agricultural workers, and allows that they be paid at the rate agreed in the collective bargaining agreement between workers’ unions and management, excluding benefits (provided the amounts agreed to should not be less than the legally stipulated minimums).
The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s poverty income level of $1.90 per day. Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, small-scale marketing, and begging. According to the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey, 50.9 percent of citizens lived below the poverty line.
The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one hour rest period for every five hours of work. The Decent Work Act stipulates that ordinary hours may be extended by collective agreement up to an average of 53 hours during an agreed upon period, as well as to 56 hours for workers in seasonal industries. The law provides for overtime pay and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.
The law provides for at least one week of paid leave per year, severance benefits, and occupational health and safety standards; the standards are up to date and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. For certain categories of industries, however, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.
The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department enforced government-established health and safety standards. These standards were not enforced in all sectors, including the informal economy. Every county has a labor commissioner, and depending on the county, one to two labor inspectors. These inspectors are responsible only for monitoring labor in the formal sector and there is no system for monitoring the informal sector. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce general compliance.
Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. The vast majority (estimated at 80 percent) had no other option than to work in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries.