ITUC-Africa to Liberia President-Elect: Your presidency presents an opportunity to rectify anomalies against workers by previous administrations

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By Michael Oche

Liberia’s President-Elect, Mr. Joseph Boakai has been urged to give priority to the restoration of the rights of public sector workers in Liberia when he assumes office.

The African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) in a congratulatory message to the president-elect noted that his presidency provides a unique opportunity to rectify anomalies against public sector workers in the country.

In the letter signed by ITUC-AFRICA General Secretary, Akhator Joel Odigie, the regional organisation noted the interference by previous administrations on the rights of the workers to organize.

“It is imperative to address a longstanding and critical issue that has plagued Liberia’s industrial relations landscape—the denial of the fundamental rights of public sector workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Regrettably, Liberia stands as the sole country in Africa, if not the world, where public sector workers are unjustly barred from joining a trade union of their choice,” Odigie stated.

In 2022, ITUC-Africa wrote to the now outgoing President, George Opong Weah, expressing its concern over intimidation and threats of physical harm that are hurled at trade union leaders in Liberia by his administration.

The regional organisation cited instances such as the severity of threat and intimidation of comrade George Poe, the General Secretary of NAHWUL, which led to his forced exile for safety, as one of several cases of harassment of workers in Liberia

Comrade Odigie in his letter to the president-elect expressed optimism that such unfriendly labour practices would be rectified when he assumes the presidency.

The ITUC-Africa General Secretary reminded the President-Elect that his victory at the polls is a testament to the faith, and trust reposed in his leadership, characterised by qualities such as a commitment to peace, adherence to due process, and a steadfast belief in the principles of justice.

“As you embark on this pivotal journey to guide Liberia, we acknowledge the tremendous responsibilities that lie ahead. However, given your staunch dedication to steering the country toward progress and prosperity, we are optimistic that you will succeed,” the letter noted

He said further, “your presidency presents a unique opportunity to rectify these deep-seated anomalies. During your initial 100 days in office, we implore your administration to prioritise the restoration of the rights of public sector workers, ensuring their freedom of association and the practice of collective bargaining. This rectification aligns not only with Liberia’s constitutional obligations but also with international norms and commitments.

“ITUC-Africa remains steadfast in supporting your government in addressing these longstanding injustices. Successive governments have needlessly politicised these relatively simple industrial relations issues without success. A well-organised public sector workforce offers immense public administration and service delivery benefits. Therefore, we strongly urge your in coming government to prioritise and deal swiftly with this matter.

“The International Labour Conference (ILC), through the Committee on the Application of Standards (2022 and 2023), has proffered helpful conclusions on these issues. By restoring these fundamental rights, Liberia can reclaim its rightful place within the ILO as Africa’s oldest member, acting responsibly and commanding the respect of all stakeholders at the sub-regional, continental and international levels.

“Mr President-Elect, we are mindful that Liberian workers and people have elected you at this time so that you will renew their hope and mobilise them effectively for the cause of nation building, improved collective welfare and well-being and justice for all. Liberia’s public sector workers need justice.”