With the entry of the deadly Coronavirus in Liberia, the Government of Liberia immediately instituted series of measures aimed at safeguarding the lives and rights of workers within the education sector. Schools were immediately shut down, with government-salaried staff being asked to stay home but to receive their regular monthly pay. In similar fashion, the Ministry of Labor on March 23, 2020 formulated a “COVID-19 Preparedness Guide for Workplaces and Workers in Liberia”, protecting all workers in Liberia. However, in the wake of government’s effort to protect workers’ rights across the country, The Analyst has learned that Bridge Liberia as of April 2020 slashed salaries of its employees by 80-90 percent.
Within the framework of the “COVID-19 Prepared for Workplaces and Workers in Liberia”, specifically Chapter 6, Section 6.3, the Ministry of Labor stated clearly that: “there should be no employees’ layoff except in the case of redundancy where the law remains fully applicable. Employers wishing to reduce staff not classified under redundancy must pay the staff full salary in accordance with the usual pay periods provided for in their contract of employment.”
Despite these regulations, this paper has been reliably informed that Bridge Country Director Griffin Asigo on March 26, 2020 dispatched letters to individual employees in which he, Asigo, told certain group of staff which he termed as “non-essential” to go on one-month compulsory leave, with the proviso that said category of employees would only receive ten percent of their monthly pay, beginning April 2020.
“On the other hand, Mr. Asigo also informed another group of employees that he termed “essential” to remain on job but to work only for four days a month and to receive only 20 percent of their monthly pay. Mr. Asigo’s mandate took effect as of April 2020 and would continue as long as government’s policy on the shutdown of schools remains in force,” one of the affected Bridge staff averred.
According to one of the Bridge whistleblowers, Mr. Asigo took the decisions without passing through the Human Relations section of his organization. “He only emailed us individual letters demanding at the end that we sign said letter and forward same to HR,” our Bridge source said.
It can be recalled, immediately prior to the advent of the deadly COVID-19 in Liberia, the National Legislature had summoned Mr. Asigo. After several failed attempts to appear, Griffin finally showed up sometime early March, at which time he was tasked to write a letter of apology to the House Committee on Education or face contempt. He was also mandated to report to the House Committee on Education and submit specified documents relating to Bridge’s interventions in Liberia.
“Griffin refused the request from the House, and absconded the country as soon as the Coronavirus struck,” our source maintained, adding, “he was safely in Kenya when he wrote us that wicked mandate to cut our salaries by 80 percent. How are we going to sustain our families? Why has the government abandoned our plight?” one of the affected employees lamented to this paper.
“While other organizations that have similar mandate as Bridge are paying their workers on time and even providing them extra incentives to ease the economic strains of COVID-19, Bridge is saying we don’t matter to them,” one of the aggrieved staff lamented.
When contacted, a low level functionary at the Ministry of labor acknowledged that the ministry had received some formal complaints from former and current Bridge employees about bad labor practices at Bridge-Liberia.
The Ministry of Labor official, whose name is withheld because he is not clothed with the authority to address the issues in the press, said the Government of Liberia under President Weah will protect the rights of all workers, most especially at a time when the people are feeling the economic pinch of the deadly Coronavirus.
In an effort to reach out to Bridge to gets its side of the allegations, this paper sent Bridge Liberia Country Director Griffin Asigo an email message stating, “Some staff of Bridge Liberia have complained for their salaries being slashed by 80%. We have the story for publication tomorrow. We will appreciate if you as County Director can give us the side of Bridge Liberia. We are awaiting your urgent reply, Sir. Thanks.”
“Thank you for reaching out. Our staff are our priority and we are committed to supporting them during this very challenging time. We are continuing to pay our staff a monthly payment, despite the closure of all schools, until this global crisis passes and Liberian schools are re-opened by the Government. These are very difficult times for everyone. Many friends and neighbours will be suffering having lost their jobs and any income. We are determined to support our staff; despite the temporary suspension of our operations. All teachers in Liberia remain on the government payroll. We continue to work closely with the government and support them with their COVID response. For any parent or home educator, – Free online, grade based, learning guides and activity sheets are available daily; and updated weekly, so that all parents and caregivers can help their children continue to learn at home until this crisis is over,” Bridge CD Asigo replied.
Although the Bridge Country Director failed to address the allegation of his company slashing staff pay by 80 percent, The Analyst is in possession of copies of employees’ past and current bank slips showing the abnormal salary cuts for the month of April 2020.
Meanwhile, this paper will in its subsequent publication unearth findings from investigations into claims from Bridge-Liberia that parents and students across the length and breadth of Liberia are currently benefitting from an ongoing home-study program via radio and through school principals and teachers.