GoL, Public Sector Workers’ MOU Averts Turbulence -Contentious Outstanding Issues Eclipse in 3 Months

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A cursory, unintentional glimpse at Liberian public sector workers’ public statements, or their disposition to state authority, gives a somehow deceptive perception about them. One can be tempted to call them agent provocateurs, opposition fanatics or unreasonable agitators. Their history, particularly of the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia, is replete with belligerent rhetoric, go slow, sit-ins, etc., gives an odd picture to the public, mainly to the ruling establishment. But at the end of the day, these are people who represent the interest of a huge population of the country, since a single person’s employment accounts for the welfare of a dozen people. Thus, when the public sector workers’ groups recently threatened to burst into a frenzy of radical actions, including a sit-in over a litany of grievances, public reactions were mixed. Some said the action was in the right direction, while others said all hell was about to break loose. But the tenacities of both Government negotiators and the leadership of latter day public servants’ advocacy groups calmed the storm. They are in a Memorandum of Understanding over a range of issues that are expected to bring a long, lingering feud to an end in three months. The Analyst reports.

By now public schools would have been closed and students engaged in idle games at home or in the streets with placards, or critical patients at government health centers would be groaning in pains. That would have been so—and the government’s social service operations would have been shot down—because government workers or their leaders were angry over a long list of grievances and they threatened to drop working tools until they were tended to. And that would have been if efforts were not made in the last week or two to broker an impasse and generate consensus between the leadership of government workers and key officials of Government.

But now there is a solid Memorandum of Understanding signed between the government of Liberia and it workers who conglomerate under the banner, Consortium of Public Sector Workers

Organization.

The negotiation that brokered the truce was carved by a number of Government institutions that included Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ministry of Health (MOH), and the Civil Service Agency (CSA).

The Consortium was represented by the Civil Servants Association of Liberia, the National Teachers Association of Liberia, National Health Workers Association of Liberia, the Monrovia Consolidated Schools System Teachers’ Association, and the National Parents Teachers Network of Liberia.

Early April, government workers nearly invoked the augury of the month of April when they announced on various media platform that they would go a mass sit-in at various institutions of Government on account of several issues of concerns confronting them at their places of work. They chose no other date for the sit-in but on April 14, a date when often mentioned does infuse chills in the spine of Liberians for its ominous history.

With the intervention of Imam Ali Krayee, Chief Imam of the Republic of Liberia, the parties to the MOU met on Tuesday April 13, 2021, leading to a formal discussion on the full extent of planned and ongoing reforms and how these would impact public sector workers belonging to the Consortium vis-à-vis the horde of burning issues from the government workers.

At the end the four-hour meeting leading to the MOU, the Government made several commitments to address the issues raised by the workers and provided information on concerns that were not to the full understanding and knowledge of the workers.

“To ensure the timely resolution of these issues as described here in this MOU, the Government and the Consortium have agreed to make reasonable efforts to resolving these issues within a period of three (3) months from April 18, 2021 to July 18, 2021,” the MOU stated in its concluding paragraphs.

It added: “Progress on the resolution will be monitored on a periodic basis during the three-month span to address any risk to implementation. The implementation timeline will be reasonably adjusted as needed where necessary.”

Amongst other things, the MOU

The MOU provides that Government will embark on an effective communication tool to convey to public sector workers the full scope of reforms and actions taken and actions to be taken by the Government in all problem areas.

The Government and the Consortium, through a Technical Working Group that has been set up, will develop different communication packages deriving from this MOU with the aim of providing more effective information to Consortium workers in their various settings and contexts.

On the issue or complaint on public workers’ pension, the MOU declares that Government through the Civil Service Agency (CSA) commits to making the 2017 Pension Law publicly available and more accessible.

“Copies of the law should be provided to all Consortium members. With this, the legal age for retirement is now 60 years of age has been defined in the new 2017 Pension Law of Liberia,” it further states, adding that Government has agreed to revise the implementation of the retirement exercise to address the concerns of the Consortium.

Actions earmarked to be taken include granting special dispensation to MOE and MOH on the selection and retention of the teachers and health workers who are beyond the legal pension age of 60 years; recruiting more teachers and health workers from the current list of voluntary health and education workers to fill the workforce gap created from the retirement exercise, especially within rural areas, and that the exercise will be implemented in consultation with the Civil Service Agency.

Regarding February 2020 and August retirement and handshake, it is stated that the Government has since begun processing the payment of handshake for August retirees.

“The Government through the MOE has agreed to return more than 85 percent of August teacher retirees back to the classroom through its contract or consultancy payroll,” said the MOU. “Same applies to healthcare workers who are deemed fit by the MOH. This means that the Government has given special dispensation to teachers and healthcare workers who have reached the legal age of retirement of 60 years considering the special circumstances of these sectors. Those returning to the payroll will be processed for retirement over the next few years while the Government seeks their replacement in a dignified manner.”

The Government through the ministries of Education and Health is compiling the list of all teachers and healthcare workers in terms of facility, location, worker qualification, number of workers to provide the Government adequate information for planning on human resource management including retirement in rural areas.

To resolve the concerns of the tenured DEOs who were retired and removed from the payroll in August 2020, the Government through MOE will reinstate the DEOs on a contract basis to the extent of their tenure and pay them consistent with the salary of DEOs. The effective date of this contract reinstatement will be 30 days from the signing of this MOU.

The MOU also resolved the issue of the recent dismissal of teachers on the basis of test results.

To this concern, the Government has committed itself through the MOE that it is open to rehiring these teachers as long as they qualify themselves through formal education training.

Some 28 teachers in this category have since re-qualified and have been placed back on the payroll. The invitation to requalify has been extended to all similarly affected teachers.

On workers transitioning to NASSCORP and social security benefits, the Government has constituted a technical working team comprising NASSCORP, MFDP, and the CSA to implement a roadmap on automation of the pension system through data sharing and integration between NASSCORP and the central government systems.

The automation will accelerate enrollment and the migration of public employees’ job and earnings history to the NASSCORP pension system, enabling the government to develop and issue regular monthly pay slip that will capture employee social security contributions, date for retirement, and estimated pension benefit after retirement.

The Government’s Technical Working Team through the Civil Service Agency will also work with spending entities to ensure enrollment of existing government employees on the NASSCORP system, and issue procedures that give up to three month notices to prospective retirees, and conduct adequate pre-retirement counselling.

During the three-month notice, HRs of spending entities are required to ensure completion of the C1 forms of prospective retirees to ensure timely transition to the pension payroll after retirement.

The Government through the technical team to ensure retirees receive their benefits in the currency in which social security contributions were made.

The MOU addressed the perennial problem of salary payment and disbursements which has denied many public workers their monthly earnings in time.

The agreement states that in the interim, to protect most vulnerable workers of the Consortium, especially the staff with only LRD accounts, the Government has constituted a technical team that will, over the next 60 days, generate corresponding USD accounts for employees with only LRD accounts at their respective commercial banks.

According to them, this will minimize the impact of the loss in the appreciation of the exchange rate which may not adjust to local prices in the short-run.

Additionally, to protect a certain class of workers from exchange rate volatility, the Government may pay these workers on the basis of a predefined exchange rate, even if the market or official exchange rate deviates from this predefined exchange rate, especially in the case of exchange rate appreciation where local prices fail to adjust in the immediate and short-run.

Accordingly, such a policy requires budgetary appropriation by the National Legislature and is currently under consideration and this benefit would only be extended to healthcare and education workers within a limited or narrow salary range.

Concluded on April 18, 2021, the MOU was signed by Hon. Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. Minister of Finance and Development Planning; Hon. Prof. Ansu D. Sonii, Minister of Education; Hon. Dr. Wilhemina Jallah, Minister of Health, and Hon. James Thompson, Director General, Civil Services Agency, on behalf of Government.

For the Consortium, the following persons signed: Hon. Moibah K. Johnson, President, Consortium of Public Sector Workers Organization; Hon. Mary W. M. Nyumah President, National Teachers Association of Liberia, Hon. Joseph S. Tamba, President, National Health Workers Association of Liberia; Hon. Augustine N. Nyormui, President, Monrovia Consolidated School System Teachers’ Association, and Hon. J. Mason Saweler, President, National Parents Teachers Network Liberia.

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