Liberia: Six Civil Service Workers Union Threaten Massive Strike over Delayed Salaries; Gives Govt Two Weeks Ultimatum

The group under the banner, “CONSORTIUM OF PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS ORGANIZATIONS OF LIBERIA”, at a news conference Wednesday, called for amongst other things, an immediate halt to all unapproved and unauthorized percentage deductions on the salaries of Public Sector Workers by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).

Monrovia – Six Public sector groupings including; National Teachers Association of Liberia, National Health Workers Union of Liberia, Monrovia Consolidated Schools System Teachers’ Association, Supplementary Teachers’ Association of Liberia, Civil Servants Union of Liberia and the Liberia Labor Congress have given the George Manneh Weah-led government a two-weeks ultimatum to address a laundry list of recommendations, which if not adhered to would lead to a go-slow action across the country.

The group under the banner, “CONSORTIUM OF PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS ORGANIZATIONS OF LIBERIA”, at a news conference Wednesday, called for amongst other things, an immediate halt to all unapproved and unauthorized percentage deductions on the salaries of Public Sector Workers by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).

Mr. Moibah K. Johnson, President of the Civil Service union, said the Consortium in the resolution also called for Civil Servants’ payrolls to be brought back to CSA, which is clothed with the statutory responsibility to appropriate salaries based on the CSA grading system

The Consortium are also demanding that all insurance premiums deducted from Public Sector Workers be remitted to the respective insurance companies; and that the  National Teacher Association of Liberia (NTAL) credit union cooperative membership dues, shares and loans be regularly deducted and remitted to the NTAL as enshrined in the legal document submitted to CSA and MFDP.

Said Johnson: “The NTAL membership dues of 2% per member as enshrined in the resolution from the Delegates Convention be fully implemented and remitted to the Organization of its smooth operations; the Government of Liberia immediately employ all vetted Supplementary/Voluntary teachers.”

Johnson, on behalf of the Consortium said: “Failure on the part of the Government of Liberia to address these grave concerns that border around the Labor Rights and economic livelihood of Public Sector Workers and their families within the period of two weeks from Wednesday, will result in the nationwide go-slow.

Johnson told journalists Wednesday that resolution was adopted by the Consortium of Public Sector Workers Organizations of Liberia at its Special Technical Sitting on October 23, 2019 in the City of Monrovia, Montserrado County, and Republic of Liberia.

In recent weeks, the Liberian capital has witnessed several protests with various groups making demands to the government, mainly regarding unpaid salary arrears for services have rendered in the Public sector.

“Failure on the part of the government of Liberia to address these grave concerns that the border around the labor rights and economic livelihood of public sector workers and their families within the period of two weeks from this date will result in a nation-wide go slow action by all public sector workers within the Republic of Liberia”

– Moibah K. Johnson, President, Civil Servants Union of Liberia

Wave of Protests in Recent Weeks

At the state-run University of Liberia, students recently took the government to task for failing to pay lecturers their benefits. 

A series of mass protests followed,  the first in support of Jestina Taylor-Ghartey, who claimed that she was raped, drugged and subjected to investigation by the Police. Protesters blocked the Tubman Boulevard main streets in a bid to stop police from taking Ghartey away.

On Thursday, October 10, sympathizers of talk-show host Henry Costa protested against the shutdown of his station by government. State prosecutors have claimed he was using the airwaves to incite the public against the government and that his station was also unregistered. 

Five days later, on October 15, angry students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) took to the streets after their teachers had laid down their teaching tools over delayed salary arrears. 

Police used brute force to disperse the students, something that is still being criticized as the government announced that it was taking swift action to pay the aggrieved teachers’ salaries.

The trend of protests, some observers say, mirrors the country’s troubling past and many are increasing calls on the government to avoid missteps that would further plunge the state into chaos. 

As another protest seems to be in the making, there are suspicions of reoccurrence of violent scenes. 

UL student leaders had planned to shutdown major government ministries if the administration fails to pay lecturers, who have dropped their chalks. 

Following a crucial meeting on Wednesday, October 16, the UL Faculty Association (ULFA) stopped teaching on Thursday. They made several demands including the payment of their salary arrears.

“The faculty should immediately disengage from teaching until the one-month (September) arrear is paid and that hereafter, the University of Liberia administration should pay salaries on or before the thirty day of each month,” ULFA said in a statement issued Thursday, October 17, in Monrovia.

Protest Is Expensive’

The high volumes of anti-government protests are triggering concerns and creating a state of uncertainty for the Government, which is already struggling to deal with a plethora of economic issues.

Adding more fuel to the fire, the protests often disrupt the movement of vehicles and slowed economic activities.  “Protest is very expensive,” said an Economics professor at the UL, who asked for anonymity.

“Whenever, there is a protest and business activities are shut down, the government loses hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes because these businesses that are affected by the protest will not pay taxes.”

At the same time, there are growing concerns that the protests may hurt the image of the country and drive potential investors away. 

Health workers protest 

In September health workers protested in demand of salaries and benefits owed them by the government. At the end of the weeklong protest the Secretary-General of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia George Poe Williams said that the strike action was never their intention but health workers were instead constrained to do such due to what he terms as prolong overlooking of their concerns by past and current authorities. “NAHWUL regrets this ugly situation and prays we never have to reach this point again,” Williams said.

The Secretary-General of NAHWUL called his colleagues to get back to their various workplaces and remain ethical in the discharge of their duties. But as one protests simmers, another emerges.

MCSS student Protest

In October students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) took a trip down the Samuel Kanyon Doe era circa 1986 and former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, March 2011, by staging a massive demonstration before the seat of the Liberian presidency, demanding arrears owed their teachers, they say going back four to five months. 

MCSS provides primary and secondary education to the student population of the Monrovia metropolitan area. The MCSS was established by government charter in 1964 under the Act to Amend the Education Law to Create the Monrovia Consolidated School System. 

Fighting back teargas and live ammunition, the MCSS students blocked a presidential convoy, demanding to see President George Manneh Weah and have him hear their concerns. The students also threatened to disrupt private schools if the government did not address their concerns.

Grand Gedeh Protest 

Also, in Grand Gedeh County, Normal activities at the Grand Gedeh County Community College in Garloville, outside Zwedru   seized after students staged a demonstration in demand of accreditation for the Nursing department.

Grand Gedeh County Community College was established in 2010 by an Act of the 52nd Legislature as a College with the objective of providing tertiary education to the local community of Grand Gedeh Counties and its surroundings. 

The college began regular academic activities in 2013 and has since held three commencement convocations, with the latest on July 13, 2019.

A little over a hundred students including Liberians and foreigners have graduated with associate degrees in different fields of studies including business, public administration, agriculture and Education.

But none of the students within the Nursing department has graduated since 2013.

On Wednesday, October 16, the students blocked the main entrance of the college campus in Garlloville outside Zwedru and at the same time peacefully marched through the principal streets of Zwedru.

The march ended with a petition statement to the local county authority at the Zwedru administrative building.

Tina Blanyon, reading the position statement on behalf of her colleagues, said since starting school since 2013, they are yet to graduate with an associate degree in the nursing program.