Sunday, January 29, 2017

From civil war to the class war (business as usual)

 Now that the civil war has ended in Liberia it seems old hardline robber baron business models from early capital accumulation experience of the west have been utilised to deny payment to workers for their indispensible services in producing value.

Even yet, it seems, to organise resistance to encroachments upon labour, conditions or ability to bargain on wages can result in arrest ,imprisonment and general harassment.

 UNISON has lent its support to the campaign for the reinstatement of Joseph S. Tamba and George Poe Williams of the National Health Workers’ Association of Liberia (NAHWAL), and respect for trade union rights by the country’s government.

 In February 2014, Joseph S. Tamba and George Poe Williams were dismissed following a nationwide strike against poor working conditions in the health sector. The strike followed repeated attempts to seek change through negotiations and dialogue, which the government rebuffed.

 These deplorable working conditions had fatal consequences: the lack of protective equipment, long working hours and the lack of medication in the fight against Ebola caused hundreds of deaths amongst health workers.

 This situation led to the avoidable deaths of hundreds of health workers. For example, while 0.11% of the population as a whole died from Ebola infection, 8.07% of the health workforce lost their lives.

 Meanwhile, social dialogue is stifled in Liberia. Workers in the public service are prevented from forming or joining trade unions. NAHWAL and other combinations of workers are thus not legally recognised.

 In addition, the refusal by the government to engage in dialogue with healthcare workers’ representatives no doubt exacerbated the Ebola crisis and contributed to thousands of deaths and a global health crisis.

 Furthermore, workers who continued risking their lives did not always get their salaries and risk allowances and no consequent support system for Ebola survivor health workers or for the families of deceased workers was put in place.

 Following the national strike, 22 union leaders across the country were fired without any hearing by the Health Minister of Liberia. Following an intervention by nearly all stakeholders, twenty were reinstated, except for Joseph S. Tamba and George Poe Williams, respectively President and General Secretary of NAHWAL. Their accounts were put on hold as of May 2015.

 The cases of Tamba and Williams do not stand alone. They are an extreme example of the lack of respect for trade union rights and the right to organise in Liberia although ILO Conventions 87 and 98 are ratified.

  To date, it remains illegal for public service workers to organise and form or join a union that represents them. Although NAHWAL has followed all the required procedures, including paying Business Registry tax as a trade union for two years in a row, the union has been denied a union certificate. The Ministry of Labour has never officially replied to written requests for clarification. NAHWAL, together with PSI and ITUC has filed a complaint at the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO.

 Not only Liberian public service workers’ organisations but also other unions face the same struggle: various trade unions have been denied registration therefore excluding them from collective bargaining and union leaders and activists are regularly dismissed, displaced to faraway regions, denied their salary, and workers intimidated.

Capitalism has long since served its historic mission of introducing a socially necessary technological age.

We must organise to take the Earth back from those who currently own and exploit it, and must make it the common heritage of all.

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