Salone News

New Union Leader Blasts Labour Minister

3 March 2006 at 04:56 | 537 views

By Alpha Jalloh, Patriotic Vanguard Senior Correspondent,Freetown

To make another milestone in the history of Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress last weekend re-elected Mr. M.A. Deen as President at its Quinquennial delegate conference, at the Miatta Conference center in Freetown.

Deen won a landslide victory over his rival Mr. Festus E. Minah. Moreover, out of 72 delegates, Mr. Minah got 28 votes, and Mr. Deen got 44 votes. The position of vice president was contested by Mr. Abu Sillah who got 24 votes and Isabella Campbell who got 47 votes, and was incidentally declared the winner.

Several positions that were vacant were declared unopposed such as Treasurer.Mr. Deen said the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Industrial Relations failed to convene a Joint National Negotiating Board (JNNB) which was over due. “The Joint National Negotiating Board as set out in sub section (1) of section (4) of he Regulation of wages and Industrial Relations Act No.18 of 1917 states as follows: “subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this section, the Joint National Board shall have power to fix minimum rates of pay and paid public holidays and maximum hours".

He recalled that the Labour Congress and the Government signed an agreement on Thursday 27 January 2005 in which Item 5 in the agreement dealt specifically with the national minimum wages. He gave details of the agreement.

“It is agreed that the Joint National Negotiating Board (JNNB) having been re-constituted shall meet to consider and fix the minimum wage within the current financial year subject to a professional study and recommendation of an expert that would soon be recruited to carry out this work.”, he added.

Mr. Deen said Congress had often expressed concern over the delay for the JNNB to meet, but to no avail. “So, we decided to raise the issue again in our statement of 22nd September 2005 in which we emphasized that the national minimum wage has still not yet been addressed by government; a situation which is creating concern to all employees”, he said.

He noted that the minister of Labour, Social Security and Industrial Relations Mr. Alpha Timbo had stated among other things that ...’Government in its 2005 Budget speech adjusted the minimum wage to Le 40,000,00 per month’.
And that government had initiated a number of studies supported by UNDP, UK, DIFID and the World Bank on public sector reform, including senior executive service (SES) programme”.

Deen said the intervention of the minister was not convincing. “We therefore went a stage further to suggest that the JNNB now commence work in earnest to prepare the ground for the World Bank expert / consultant and a date must be set for the conclusion of all preliminary work on the wage structure before the arrival of the expert. In the interim, we proposed an improvement on the current national minimum wage of Le 100,000 to become effective January 2006”.

He said while Congress was looking forward for the JNNB to commence its sitting in earnest, the Minister of Finance in his budget statement of economic and financial policies delivered in the Chamber of Parliament on Friday, 25th November 2005 informed the nation of government’s intention of awarding a 10 percent increase in the basic salary of civil servants.

“The 10 percent increase is considered by us to be ridiculous, because it does not reflect the prevailing socio-economic realities vi-a-vis the cost of living in Sierra Leone”, Mr. Deen declared.

He however maintained that Congress still stuck to its proposal of Le100, 00,00 that was earlier submitted. “This amount is still open for discussion to enable members of the JNNB to commence sitting with a view to reaching an amicable that will be acceptable by member of that body”, he said.

The Vice president Solomon Berewa was absent but was represented by the minister of Labour and Industrial relations Alpha Timbo(photo). Timbo expressed appreciation for the theme of Congress which was “Challenges in the face of Globalization”.

He said after many struggles in Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC) had always articulated its views in the protection of the rights of workers. “These include among others, acting as a counter weight to the bargaining advantage of employers, which became a pre-condition of any relation of employment in which the workers’ right are respected. Without doubt, the Labour congress has not only made history, but has carved for itself a place in the history of Sierra Leone”, Mr. Timbo said.

He pointed out that the labour movement in Sierra Leone had succeeded among other things, to influence the enactment of progressive legislation, the development of free and democratized trade union and the recognition of their rights. “It has also achieved collective Bargaining status and political spheres of Sierra Leone”, Mr. Timbo added.

He said in the discharge of its functions Labour is not dealing with purely economic maters, but also organization, social political and educational matters.
“Such challenges presuppose that the Sierra Leone Labour Congress continued activity in such areas including civic education, networking between and among civic society groups, enhancing the democratic structures of union to ensure democratic good governance, mass literacy progammes, etc are all enormous task. If is to overcome these challenges, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress will have to employ such resources that will enable it succeed”, he added

Mr. Timbo promised that Government would continue its commitment in ensuring that union dues due to affiliates of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress would always be paid to enhance the operation of the union and the Sierra Leone Labour Congress.

He recalled that since the last delegates’ conference in November 1999, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress and its affiliates have intensified their activities aimed at not only improving the lives of their members, but also, dealing with issues that were before now considered outside the realm of Trade Unionism. Trade Unions were now interested in promoting democracy and Good Governance.

“Another important area crucial to socio-economic and political development in Sierra Leone where the Labour Congress has played a positive contribution to democratic good governance is the civil society. Sierra Leone today, there is a proliferation of civil society groups”, he noted. He said though the phenomenon should not be seen as negative to the democratic transition process, but is must be coordinated.

At the end when voting was done Mr. Deen won again the presidency for the second time. The Congress members were thrown into frenzied jubilation. Mr. Deen has been described as one of the most dynamic leaders Congress has had in contemporary times.