The world has become devastated by the Coronavirus outbreak. Healthcare systems of sophisticated countries are struggling to deal with the pandemic.
To level the curve, reduce the human-to-human transmissions, and regain socio-economic sanity, governments across the globe have instituted stringent health protocols for all citizens, residents, and visitors within their respective borders.
Countries are aggressively fighting the virus while at the same time having to deal with the impact the pandemic is having on the economy and on individual citizens.
Employers are now scaling down business operations either as a result of the economic impact or in response to the health protocols announced by the Liberian government. The fares for local public transport have increased while working from home has become an additional burden, as parents now have to juggle with food and other essential supplies.
In the U.S., the government has approved a US$2 trillion stimulus package to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the economy. The deal includes provisions of US$1,200 checks to adult Americans and US$500 for children.
In Italy, the worst affected country in terms of deaths, some businesses and families are given time off all through the financial crunch before having to pay back. Additionally, bank loan payments have been suspended amid the outbreak.
Many other countries with stressed economies providing some sort of social support to taxpayers and businesses.
In Liberia, where there are three confirmed cases, the impact of COVID-19 on the economy is yet to be measured. The Government of Liberia has introduced some stimulus packages, including the suspension of loan repayments and bank transfer charges. All mobile money transaction charges have also been suspended for one month.
Still, employees, employers, and business people are already feeling the impact of the pandemic. Employers in the private sector are cutting back on headcounts due to the paralysis of their business. They are also cutting back on workers in the interest of abiding by the government’s social distancing policy.
Transport fares have increased and the prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed due to a limited level of importation. Even the cost of disinfectants used to protect against the virus is too high for regular Liberians. Accordingly, inflation is moving up steadily, approaching 24 percent.
What can the Liberian government do to support?
The Association of Liberian Human Resource Professionals has reviewed trends in other countries and Liberia and herewith recommend the following:
Full Implementation of the Decent Work Act: The Ministry of Labor should work with private companies to ensure that the laws are implemented, and employees who are working from home or asked to take leave due to the virus maintain their job upon return.
Monitoring by the Ministry of Labor. The Ministry of Labor can work with companies to ensure that fixed-term contractors or employees are paid in line with the Decent work Act. The Ministry of Labor can also work to protect employers in terms of force majeure.
Liberianization Policy: There may be several international organizations coming to Liberia temporarily to support the fight against COVID-19. Liberians must be given the opportunity to work in line with the Liberianization policy and must be paid comparatively.
Ensure Regular Salary Payment: The Civil Service Agency must ensure all civil servants take a regular salary to support their families during these trying times and to also keep civil servants on the payroll upon return to work. The Coronavirus pandemic must not be used to de-list any civil servant during or after this period.
Suspend Income Taxes: The Government of Liberia must see the need to temporarily waive all income tax payments for the next three months (March to May 2020) for all employees or contractors. The waiver is an indirect stimulus package. It will also increase the disposable income of employees and help them to support their families while they are locked down.
Suspend Employees’ NASSCORP Contributions. The four percent contribution should also be suspended. Employers’ contributions should also be deferred to counterbalance the temporary waiver/suspension of the employees’ contributions. However, the Injury Scheme Contribution of two percent should be maintained.
Reschedule Employees Loan Payment: The Central Bank of Liberia should work with commercial banks in Liberia to reschedule loan repayment for employees who have an obligation with banks. The rescheduling will allow employees to support their families during these troubling times.
Communication and Engagement. Employers at this time can keep their employees engaged through regular communication and updates on COVID-19 and workplace matters.
We understand that the government is challenged financially to provide a healthy stimulus package. Still, as government officials tackle the growing economic and social situations, the above recommendations could form a basis for sound public policy.
The Association of Liberian Human Resource Professionals supports putting the human back in “human resources” as it will serve as a significant step in the fight against COVID-19.
This process could be the government’s ticket to a stimulus package for the working class in Liberia. We may not have the sizable budget or resources as sophisticated countries do; but, working with the Ministry of Labor, the Civil Service Agency, the Liberia Revenue Authority, and the National Social Security Corporation, the above recommendations will help soften the blow of the pandemic on Liberian workers.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah