Liberians Cautiously Welcome Labour Ministry’s Push for Hiring Locals

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Amid a Ministry of Labour pronouncement to enforce labor laws meant to ensure that Liberians receive priority for jobs over foreign nationals, a business executive and a union leader have welcomed the move.

Frebenjas Group of Companies’ General Manager Fred Kennedy and Edwin Cisco, secretary general of the Agricultural, Agro-processing and Industrial Workers Union of Liberia, both said in separate interviews that the new measure would provide a free space for Liberians to gain employment.

Kennedy said the mandate would reduce the unemployment rate and boost the country’s economy.

“In the past, most companies, including China Union, Firestone, and Arcelor Mittal, have brought in a lot of expatriates, and I am certain that most of the jobs being done by those foreign employees can be done by Liberians,” he said.

Frebenjas Group of Companies General Manager, Fred W. Kennedy Jr. Photo: Gbatemah Senah

Frebenjas Group of Companies General Manager, Fred W. Kennedy Jr. Photo: Gbatemah Senah

If fully enforced, Kennedy said the mandate would reduce the job drought faced by most university graduates and empower more Liberian owned businesses with better contracts and opportunities.

For Cisco, he believes that the ministry is taking an important step in reclaiming jobs from foreign nationals. “This is a problem that Liberian workers have been faced with for a long time,” he said.

According to him, the lack of political will by past governments to draft and implement policies has left many Liberian professionals sidelined while foreign workers are hired and paid even more money than a Liberian would receive.

He said the argument that most Liberians are not qualified is a myth and must not be tolerated. “More Liberian have gone to school and become technicians, technocrats, and professionals,” he said.

He said his union, AAIWUL, is grateful to the minister of labor for the step he has taken to transform the labor sector.

AAIWUL Secretary General, Edwin B. Cisco. Photo: Gbatemah Senah

AAIWUL Secretary General, Edwin B. Cisco. Photo: Gbatemah Senah

The Ministry of Labour recently announced that effective January 15, 2017, employment entities will have to seek prior permission from it before requesting entry visa for foreign workers.

“Additionally, the Ministry of Labour has informed the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) to only issue an entry visa to employers or employment entities having prior approval from the Ministry before granting them entry visa,” the Ministry said in a statement.

“This measure exempts Diplomatic Missions accredited to Liberia, multilateral, and bilateral arrangements.”

The MOL said the new measure is intended to strengthen labor policies as well as to promote a “Liberianization Policy” consistent with the Decent Work Act of 2015.

It warned that entities in violation of the new mandate will be responsible to provide return fare for foreign workers who will be denied work permit for employment.

The Decent Work Act of 2015 gives the ministry the powers to exercise oversight over the employment of expatriates by business entities. It also provides guidelines for companies hiring foreign workers.

Meanwhile, some ordinary citizens say they hope to see a full implementation of the policy.

Edmond Clarke, a resident of Paynesville, believes that the country has many good policies in place but said poor implementation has always been a challenge. While welcoming the announcement, he appeared skeptical.

“I think we must watch and see how this goes,” he added.

For Titus Kollie, a local vendor, the ministry’s statement is a sign of hope for a better Liberia.

“Even if the laws are not being fully implemented, governments will go and governments will come. The one to implement these laws will [eventually] come,” he said.

While multinational firms making hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of investments in the country often receive the greatest scrutiny from the Ministry of Labour and the public, smaller and medium businesses are likely the most egregious offenders of policies meant to promote hiring Liberian labor.

Across Monrovia, restaurants, supermarkets, and similar businesses employ foreigners as managers and other positions for which qualified Liberians exist, often paying them much higher than they would pay a similarly qualified Liberian. It is unclear whether the ministry will target those businesses.

Featured photo by Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR.

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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