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11. Labor Policies and Practices

Much of the Liberian labor force is unskilled and illiterate.  Most Liberians, particularly those in rural areas, lack basic vocational or computer skills.  Liberia does not have reliable or official data on labor force statistics, such as unemployment rates.  Liberia’s domestic market is too small to support high volume (cost-effective) production for many manufactured products.  The majority of formally employed Liberians work for the government. According to the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES 2016), Liberia has a low unemployment rate (3.9 percent) in the formal sector.  However, this masks the fact that four out of five Liberian workers (80 percent) are estimated to be engaged in “vulnerable” and/or “informal” employment. Unemployment is particularly high among youth; young women also have a harder time finding employment than young men. The International Labor Organization (ILO)’s most recent (2016) statistics indicate Liberia’s total unemployment rate stands at 3.1 percent; unemployment is higher among males (3.8 percent) than females (2.4 percent). See,  .  The informal and vulnerable employment sectors are characterized by inadequate earnings as well as difficult and/or dangerous conditions that undermine workers’ basic rights.  Migrant workers are employed throughout the country, particularly in the services sector and at artisanal diamond and gold mines. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) largely attributes high levels of vulnerable and informal employment to the private sector’s inability to create employment.  The manufacturing sector is weak, due to high production costs driven by limited financing opportunities for the private sector and poor infrastructure, including limited access to electricity. There is an acute shortage of specialized labor skills, particularly in medicine, information and communication technology (ICT), and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The labor law gives preference to employing Liberian citizens and most investment contracts require companies to employ a defined percentage of Liberians, including in top management positions.  Foreign companies often report difficulty finding skilled labor as their most significant operational hindrance. Child labor remains a problem, particularly in the agriculture and mining sectors.  The Decent Work Act guarantees freedom of association, and employees have the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without prior authorization, with the exception of civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises.  The law allows workers’ unions to conduct activities without interference by employers. The law also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of membership in a labor organization. Unions are independent from the government and political parties.  Employees, through their associations or unions, often demand and sometimes strike for compensation. When company ownership changes, workers sometimes seek payment of obligations owed by previous owners or employers. The labor law provides that labor organizations, including trade or employees’ associations, have the right to draw up constitutions and rules with regard to electing representatives, organizing activities, and formulating programs.  The laws specify that no industrial labor union or organization shall exercise any privilege or function for agricultural workers. Similarly, no agricultural labor union or organization shall exercise any privilege or function for industrial workers, nor can agricultural workers join industrial workers’ unions. Over the years, agricultural labor unions have been relatively active in negotiating collective bargaining agreements (CBA) intended to improve the social and economic conditions of their members.  Workers, except civil servants, have the right to strike provided that the MOL is notified of their intent to do so. While the law prohibits anti-union discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers dismissed because of union activities, it allows for dismissal without cause provided the company pays statutory severance packages. The law sets out fundamental rights of workers and contains provisions on employment and termination of employment, minimum conditions of work, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation, industrial relations, and employment agencies.  It also provides for periodic reviews of the labor market as well as adjustments in wages as the labor conditions dictate. The MOL does not have an adequate or effective inspection system to identify and remedy labor violations and hold violators accountable. It lacks the capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute unfair labor practices, such as harassment and/or dismissal of union members or instances of forced and/or child labor. The MOL conducts regular joint nationwide labor inspection exercises to check if employers do regularize the status of their employees in line with the Decent Work Act.  There were no new labor-related laws or regulations enacted during the last year, and there are no pending draft bills.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future