Samuel Kofi Woods, II, Minister of Labour. Speech to the High-Level Forum on "Working Out of Poverty: Decent Work Approach to Development and Growth in Africa"

Statement | 14 November 2008

Welcome Remarks (Talking Points)

Delivered By Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods, II, Minister of Labour

On the occasion of “Working out of Poverty: Decent Work approach to Development and Growth in Africa” Workshop

September 8, 2008 at Cape Hotel, Mamba Point,

Let me begin by extending our profound gratitude and appreciation to all of you for the sacrifice of time and resources required to be here. We are very grateful to co-convene this workshop along with the ILO and Realizing Rights, especially at a time when the Ministry of Labour has developed a comprehensive labor and employment program as well as 5-year strategic plan within the framework of the PRS, commonly called “lift Liberia”. This workshop is therefore expected to deliberate on several strategic issues, including but not limited to:

The commitment framework from the 2007 ILO African Regional Meeting on Decent work in Addis Ababa;

The labor and employment commitments of the Government of Liberia as enshrined in the Ministry of Labour Concept Notes; and,

The lessons learned and best practices from existing decent work programs in other countries.

This two-day workshop, through a mixture of panel presentations and group work, will review and share knowledge on policies and programs for realizing decent work at the national level. It will also encourage concrete plans by the different stakeholders for taking forward the decent work agenda in Liberia and, potentially, elsewhere.

Our decent work agenda consists of four (4) strategic but interrelated pillars as enshrined in the Concept Notes of the Ministry’s PRS deliverables:

Improved governance: a new labor code serviced by an efficient labor administration;

The creation of more, better jobs and sustainable enterprises;

The development and expansion of a national labor market information system for an inclusive social protection system, especially those working in the informal economy;

Conflict prevention and economic reconstruction through shared vision and commitment: effective social dialogue between the different stakeholders (government, Employers & workers)

As we deliberate during these two days on decent work, we need to be reminded of the hurdles that confront us:

Half of the world’s workforce earns less than $2 a day;

12.3 million women and men work in sub-standard jobs, regarded as slavery;

200 million children under the age of 15 work instead of going to school; and,

2.2 million people die due to work-related accidents and diseases every year

What this means is that despite the world economic boom, most of the world’s population are not seeing their lives improve – people work more for less money, and more and more people – overwhelmingly women are forced to make their living in the so-called informal economy, without social protection or rights and in most cases, precarious jobs.

The call to action for decent work programmes is a just call. It is a call for the respect for Human Rights. We are convinced of the urgent need to create an environment at the national and international levels that is conducive to the attainment of full and productive employment and decent work for all as a foundation for sustainable development.

Madam President; Distinguished guests; colleagues; Ladies and Gentlemen;

The Ministry of Labour, in collaboration with it partners, as well as the ILO and Realizing Rights, has initiated and begun practical steps that will lend support to the call for decent work. The Ministry has begun undertaken of the following activities:

Labor Standards and Administration:

The reform of the Liberia Labour Law. As part of the comprehensive Labour Law reform agenda, the Ministry initiated the amendment of the Liberian Labour Law Section 1508 subsection (3) and repealed PRC Decree #12 to ensure a conducive investment climate in the country. This process is currently ongoing.

Constituted the National Minimum Wage Board for the first time in more then 20 years in keeping with law. Presently the Board has concluded an agreement with the Economics Department of the University of Liberia to conduct minimum wage determination survey and come up with necessary recommendations. This survey is currently ongoing.

Participated in the review of major concession agreements, including Firestone and Arcelor Mittal to ensure equitable and mutual relationship in the workplace;

HIV/AIDS at the workplace policy has been developed. The policy represents the Government of Liberia’s commitment towards fostering conditions of decent work and enforces the vision of the Ministry.

Established the National Commission on Child Labour to coordinate the campaign against child labour in the country and the National Anti-Human Trafficking Taskforce commission.

Conducted a workshop aimed at strengthening the capacities of Labour Commissioners and Inspectors to handle quasi-judicial functions of the Ministry.

Social dialogue:

Distinguished guests, in an effort to reinforce the desire of this administration to ensure social dialogue as the appropriate framework for industrial peace and harmony, the Ministry has facilitated:

The merger of the two Labour centers in Liberia, which include the Liberia Federation of Labour Union (LFLU) and the Congress of National Trade Unions of Liberia (CONATUL). This new institution is now known as “The Liberia Labour Congress” (LLC). At the same time, the Employer represented by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce has been reactivated.

As a result of the merger of these two associations, a National Tripartite Committee (NTC) has been established to enhance dialogue among Workers, Employers and Government. This is a historic undertaking which sets the foundation for the convening of a national labour conference next year.

We are pleased to also acknowledge the improved relation between the Management of the Firestone Rubber Company and the Workers Union. A Collective Bargaining Agreement has been signed between the parties which highlights the promotion of decent work at the plantation. These developments are critical to industrial peace and harmony and guarantee a shift from strike to rule of law as the final arbiter of grievances. Recently, the workers of Firestone Rubber Company were recipient of the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award by the AFL-CIO of the United States of America.

Employment creation:

The Liberia Emergency Employment Program (LEEP) and Liberia Employment Action Program (LEAP), launched on July 15, 2006 by H.E. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to address “quick wins” short term employment needs in the country created a total of about 90,000 short term emergency employment around the country over the last two years. The emergency program is now being transformed into medium to long-term sustainable programs, including:

The drafting of a national Employment Policy, which is in its validation stages.

The establishment of a national Bureau of Employment within the Ministry of Labour, with offices in all of the counties;

Reactivated the vacation job program for students. The primary objective of this program is to create the condition for students to acquire work experience, work ethics and discipline so that they make informed occupational choices, as well as gain income to continue their schooling. Over two thousand students, through out the country are presently benefiting from this year’s vacation job scheme, which we hope to make permanent through government budgetary appropriation;

We have developed a proposal for the reactivation of Cadet, Job-Fairs and Career-Day. An Inter-Ministerial and agency Committee is in place for the implementation of these activities. Pilot activities have begun with the Career Day and Job-Fairs through the Ministry of Youth & Sports.

Lastly, an apprenticeship program known as the “Ministry of Labour Apprenticeship Programs (MOLAP) has been in effect for the past two years. These programs have trained several individuals who are being permanently employed with various institutions throughout the country.

Labor Market Information & statistics

As we all know, to address dramatic employment and human development challenges, Liberia needs timely, accurate, consistent and up-to-date statistics and labor market information in order to formulate and monitor labor market policies and employment programmes. The lack of adequate and reliable labor statistics and analysis has had a negative impact on government’s ability to assess the extent of vulnerable and informal employment. The Ministry of Labour, in collaboration with the ILO, LISGIS, and UNDP has begun planning the conduct of a Labor Force Survey to be conducted by February 2009. Further support is urgently needed in this area.

As we promote the decent work agenda, it must be noted that its implementation nevertheless requires increased donor support, partnership and concerted action by all stakeholders – the government, trade unions, employers, civil society organizations, donors and the international community as a whole.

Let me remind you again of the huge tasks ahead, and as we deliberate, let us focus on those things that will make this international workshop memorable; for “Decent work means decent life and respect for human rights”. It is therefore my considered hope that conclusions and recommendations emanating from the deliberations of this workshop will be developed into action plans for implementation. It is also hoped that implementation activities can be sustained beyond the workshop.

Armed with the continuous support of our President, the Ministry of Labour will fulfill its obligations.

Finally, “Liberia wants to be the model that shows that out of the misery and agony of war, we can now seize the moment to provide great opportunities, explore our potentials and show the political will and leadership that will inspire people”.

I therefore take this time to again welcome each and everyone, especially our president, HE Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; HE Madam Mary Robinson, president of Realizing Rights; Mr. Kabundi, representative of the ILO Director General; Mr. Ryan, Deputy SRSG; Heads of Delegations, our foreign guests and participants, to this workshop.

Thank You.