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Sierra Leone News: May Day… Many workers suffer in silence

Sierra Leone joined the world on 1st May, 2017 to observe International Workers Day, referred to as May Day. The theme for this year was, “Promoting Employment Rights”. The Acting President of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC), Jennings A.B. Wright described International Workers Day as a “red letter day” for all workers.
It all started in 1884, when workers in Chicago, U.S.A. called for better conditions of service in the workplace and that the 16-hour workday be reduced to 8 hours per day.
On the 1st of May 1886, a resolution was to take effect that employers comply and meet their demands, but the peaceful protest by the American Federation of Labour turned sour and ended in a bloody riot, claiming the lives of both workers and police.
In Sierra Leone, this is the second observance of May Day following the government’s launching of the National Employment Policy Strategy and Implementation Plan, to regulate employment issues.
Lansana Sesay is the Public Relations Officer (PRO) in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. He explained that Sierra Leone is a signatory to many International Labour Laws to ensure that workers in both public and private sector earn a decent living wage and receive better conditions of service.
He said, “Before 2015, the minimum wage was Le 21,000, but Government increased it to Le 500,000, subject to a deduction of 5% tax towards NASSIT contributions.
Sesay added that despite the increment the Ministry is challenged. He noted that many employers continue to under-pay staff and threaten sacking action when some staff attempt to join labour unions. As a result, many workers continue to suffer in silence.
He furthered that inadequate funds and the lack of logistics also make it impossible for the Ministry to address the many issues and concerns of workers, especially in the private sector.
Speaking on the theme of this year’s commemoration, “Promoting Employment Rights”, President Koroma pointed out the appropriateness and timeliness of the theme, which is in sync with government’s programmes promoting good working conditions and an effective and efficient workforce.
He also registered his commitment to strengthen the relationship with the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC) and assured that the challenges raised by the Congress will be addressed. President Koroma described his government as a listening one that will ensure that the issues facing workers are given utmost attention.
“We need to have a happy workforce,” the President said, and expressed hope that the efforts, energy and efficiency of the Sierra Leonean workforce will significantly help to build the country. He emphasized that government’s commitment to promoting and safeguarding the labour force has been captured in the domestication of international labour laws.
The Minister of Labour and Social Security (MLSS), Matthew Teambo, said his Ministry has made tremendous progress in promoting and safeguarding the country’s labour force.
He highlighted some of the achievements government has made to protect employment rights, including a labour force survey, National Employment Policy, Migration Policy, reform of the existing labour laws as well as working on a national social health insurance policy that will be of huge benefit to all workers.
Emmanuel Pratt, a youth officer at the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, stated that May Day is observed all over the world to reflect on some of the achievements made to improve working conditions of workers as well as to address the many challenges thousands still face in the work place.
He disclosed that together with the Ministry the Labour Congress is on an exercise to review the labour laws of Sierra Leone to try to bring sanity in the labour force to protect both the employer and employees.
A security officer at a private security firm confirmed that he receives Le400,000 a month in salary. He said his employer collects close to Le700,000 for each guard every month.
Fatmata Kamara has worked as a maid for 7 years and receives Le350,000 a month. She reports for duty at 7:00 a.m. and has no real quitting time. She said it was recently after several pleas, her employer gave her a salary increase and she now earns Le450,000.
She appealed to the Government to be more proactive and empower the Labour Ministry to carry out its function, including the Industrial Court to take punitive action against defaulting employers.
Delivering his statement, the Director General of the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), Sedu Mans, said, “NASSIT was established to safeguard and protect the interest of workers.”
By Ade Campbell and Saidu Bah
Wednesday 03, 2017.

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