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Decent Work Bill

Liberia’s new labour law commits to decent work

Liberia has made history by adopting a new labour law, as it is the only one in the world that directly refers to the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda in its title.

Comment | 24 July 2015
By Aeneas Chapinga Chuma, ILO Regional Director for Africa

Bruce Strong / Together Liberia
MONROVIA (ILO News) – On 25 June, Liberian President Sirleaf signed into law the Decent Work Bill, the country’s first labour law since the 1950s.

The act marks the second time that the African country becomes a forerunner in promoting ILO standards. In June 2006, Liberia became the first country in the world to ratify the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention. Now it has adopted the first labour law in the world that refers to the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda directly in its title.

What’s more, Liberia’s commitment to this agenda goes well beyond the title of the new law. The latter includes a clear statement of its purposes, and the very first is helping to promote decent work in Liberia. Among others, this means an environment that helps to create quality jobs, and allows all workers to exercise their rights at work.

The new law is also intended to promote economic development and growth, including by reducing obstacles to efficient business competition.

These key policy objectives can be traced to Liberia’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, which committed to revising the old labour law to make it more responsive to the needs of employees, employers and investors, while also promoting fundamental human rights appropriate for Liberia.

The new law explicitly promotes fundamental rights at work, including freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively; the right not to be subject to forced or compulsory labour; the right to equality at work, and to equal working conditions regardless of gender or other irrelevant criteria; and the right not to be subject to the worst forms of child labour. The law also seeks to implement certain fundamental rights found in Liberia’s Constitution.

The rights of employers and workers and their organizations will be protected through new institutions and processes that are established by the new law.

Effective social dialogue

The new National Tripartite Council will bring together representatives of employers, workers and the government to advise the Minister of Labour on labour market issues and the implementation of the new labour law. With its broad mandate, the effective operation of the National Tripartite Council will help to institutionalize and to promote social dialogue between civil society and the government. This will help to strengthen all parties, and to lead to better policy outcomes.

Among other things, the Council will play a role in determining whether there should be limits on the right to strike, and on who should be a member of the Minimum Wages Board.

Under the new law the Minimum Wages Board will be very different from the one created under the old Labour Practices Law. The members of the new Board will be independent experts in different fields relevant to setting wages that can help lift workers out of poverty, while not imposing too great a burden on employers.

The new law also includes a framework to establish strong and independent employer and worker organizations allowing them to engage in effective collective bargaining over conditions of employment and work.

There are also new rights and obligations for individual employees and employers. The process for making a valid employment contract has been simplified. And there are new rules for terminating an employee’s employment, drawing on ILO principles and the practice of many countries, including in Africa.

Going forward, an employer will need to have a valid reason to terminate an employee’s employment, related to the capacity or the conduct of the employee, or to the needs of the enterprise. The new law prohibits termination of employment on grounds that would be discriminatory, including gender, race and participation in trade union activities.

There are also new provisions to ensure that workers are entitled to certain minimum periods of leave, as well as new, comprehensive provisions to promote safety and health at work. These are supported by revised provisions on the role and powers of labour inspectors.

Much remains to be done

Although there is a new labour law now, much still remains to be done. In many cases the law requires new regulations to be adopted – so the legal framework needs to be completed. New and old institutions need to begin to operate according to the law. They will need to be – and to be seen to be – both accountable and transparent. And it is easy to see that a major campaign will be needed to promote understanding of the new law.

The ILO has been pleased and honoured to have been involved with the development of the new law from the very outset. The Organization provided expert advice, and helped to promote and facilitate an extensive process of consultations between the government, employers and workers. For its part, the Ministry of Labour conducted extensive consultations across Liberia.

These consultation processes enriched and improved the new law in many ways, and will serve as a solid basis for the law to realize its very great potential to make a major contribution to the rule of law and good governance in Liberia.

The ILO salutes Liberia’s commitment to the Decent Work Agenda, and stands ready to assist in achieving the new law’s ambitious vision for the future.