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Voices from Exile (VEx) Press Release

By Martin K.N. Kollie

Voices from Exile (VEx) Observes International Workers’ Day – Calls On The Weah-led Government To Refrain From Exploiting Liberian Workers And Enforce The Liberianization Law…

As we observe International Workers’ Day, Voices from Exile (VEx) shall remain resilient and resolute in pursuit of its fundamental creed, which is geared towards protecting the proletarians and peasants. We can never forget about the role of the working class and the labor unions. We can never neglect our entrepreneurs, health practitioners, farmers, teachers, students, marketers, petite traders, taxi-drivers, motorcyclists, push-push riders, artisanal miners, and most especially the slum-dwellers. We will continue to honor the labor of these honest patriots.

It was because of them, VEx was founded. And it is because of them, VEx is humbly standing with a ceaseless ovation to honor their invaluable services. As we reassess our collective struggle and reflect on our dark past, VEx is proud to build on the progressive legacy of our forebear and alter those inherent contradictions that continue to economically enslave our people and cage them in a cave of degradation and dehumanization.

Across our nation, Liberian workers are not only abused by foreign companies and foreign merchants, but they are also scourged to succumb to cowardice and modern servitude even by big-shots in government. As though they are slaves in the Country of their nativity, some of them are even used as profiteering caravans to increase the capital base of foreign capitalists while others are unremorsefully exploited by senior officials of government and local firms.

The latest abuse and flogging of a Liberian contractor (painter), Mr. Gus Win, on the grounds of the Capitol Building by security guards of Speaker Bhofal Chambers, is a typical example to reference. VEx demands justice for Mr. Gus Win and the “mentally ill” man (Mohammed Kamara) who was recently tortured by security guards f President George M. Weah.

Voices from Exile (VEx) vehemently opposes the harsh treatment of Liberian workers across the Country by foreign investment companies. Just the other day, there were protests by Liberian workers in demand of better wages and benefits at Sime Darby and China Union. In March of 2019, we witnessed similar impasse against APM Terminals at the Freeport of Monrovia. Neither is the condition of workers better at MNG Gold Company nor at Golden Veroleum.

While International Workers’ Day was being observed last year, there were Liberian workers in Maryland County who were protesting against their unlawful dismissal, sexual harassment, and the arbitrary replacement of Liberians with Ivoirians at the Cavalla Rubber Plantation. Foreigners have taken advantage of our weak labor market.

The situation of Liberian workers, especially rubber tappers, at Firestone Rubber Company still remains appalling since 1926. The social welfare condition of workers at Arcelor Mittal and BEA Mountain has taken a nose-dive. It is not even better at various goldmines and industrial centers (manufacturing companies). There have been unwarranted pay cuts and illegally downsizing across various sectors. Our people still remain in the category of “Working Poor”.

There is no value for labor. “Dignified Labor” and “Human Dignity” are yet too far from our shores. Our people have fallen prey to all forms of abuse and exploitation as a result of our weak and unenforceable labor laws. When these foreign companies buy their way through bogus concessions, the harsh consequences of such bad deals are imposed on poor and vulnerable Liberian workers. Voices from Exile (VEx) demands an immediate end to this national tragedy.

Even though Liberia has had a Foreign Direct Investment Portfolio of over US$16.9 billion in the last 14 years, but the real economic impact for such whopping investment cannot be seen in the lives of our people. Increased hardship remains the order of the day. This is something to ponder over especially when Liberia is the 4th poorest Country worldwide with a GDP per capita of US$455.37 (World Bank 2018 Annual Report).

Voices from Exile (VEx) calls on the pro-poor government of President George M. Weah to refrain from exploiting Liberian workers and focus more on reclaiming the economy from foreigners. The ultimate welfare of the people is fundamentally imperative under a pro-poor government. It is sad for Liberia to be rated as the 8th unhappiest Country in the world when our nation is endowed with abundant natural resources (UNDP World Happiness Report, 2019). Why must our people suffer when our Country is underpopulated (The resources are more than the number of people)?

Furthermore, Voices from Exile (VEx) is very concerned about the gross violation of the 2015 Decent Work Act which is in accordance with Section 501 of the Liberian Labor Law. According to this law, a minimum daily wage of US$3.50 was legislated for unskilled workers while US$5.50 for skilled workers. Unfortunately, this law is being violated both in the private and public sectors. VEx demands an end to this blatant violation.

For instance, before President Weah could even come to power, there were a lot of civil servants whose monthly earnings fell below this statutory threshold (US$165 per month). The continuous cut in the wages of civil servants under the Weah-led government has even made matter worse. After 172 years, VEx cannot remain silent when a public school teacher is earning below US$130 –a professional nurse US$150 –a police officer US$157 and –an immigration officer US$100 per month.

VEx admonishes the CDC-led government to cut down on public waste and increase the monthly salaries of civil servants to at least US$350 taking into consideration the high cost of living as a result of global economic shocks, inflation, local currency depreciation, and increment in taxes on imports. The urgency to value the labor of our people cannot be overemphasized.

VEx calls on President George Weah to use his executive power to doably relapse taxes on imports and remedy prevailing complications at the National Port Authority. The compounded difficulties facing Liberian businesses and entrepreneurs are disturbing as the Weah-led government continues to prioritize foreign businesses in exchange for kickbacks (brown envelops). The one week of consistent protest held by PATEL in 2017 should and must be a lesson learned for the Weah-led administration.

The government must begin to genuinely and mutually collaborate with the Liberia Business Association (LIBA), the Liberia Chambers of Congress (LCC), the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA), PATEL, the Liberia Labor Congress (LCC), the Association of Liberian Workers (ALW), and the Liberia Custom Broker Association (LCBA) in order to find a more concrete solution to prevailing complexities in the business community and labor market.

In an effort to protect Liberian entrepreneurs and promote a Liberian-dominated economy, Voices from Exile (VEx) considers the 1973 Liberianization Policy as the real stimulus package for socio-economic growth and genuine national development. This policy, which exclusively sets aside 26 businesses for Liberians only, has been grossly violated over time.

VEx encourages this pro-poor government to fully enforce every proviso of the Liberianization Policy. Huge capital outflows as a result of a foreign-dominated economy continues to undermine Liberia’s progress and development. It is time to localize our economy and put our people in charge of their own destiny. Diversification through local dominance, in the areas of agriculture, tourism, energy, industrialization, technology, infrastructure, education, transportation, health and entrepreneurship, is essential and must be considered as a national imperative.

The voice from Exile (VEx) will continue to stand by the working and underprivileged class of our society. Happy International Workers’ Day to all Liberian workers both in the public and private sectors. Solidarity with all men and women whose honest labor has transformed our World into an economic hub.

Done and Sealed from Exile on this 1st Day of May A.D. 2020.

Signed: Martin K. N. Kollie
Liberian Activist and Chief Convener
Voices from Exile (VEx)

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