Layers Of Gov’t’s Missteps – Regarding Safety At Industrial Sites; The Politics Of ‘Cut Yours And Block’?

While it is true that the Weah-led government scored some considerate marks in the health sectors as reported by the United States 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Liberia reflections from the industrial sites along with child labor abuse dropped the hope an aspirations of the people of which most people on the frontier of child labor abuse, blamed the government for presiding over an economy that is not people-centered, despite his loud vibration on his inaugural day that Liberians will no longer be spectators to their own economy rather become the custodians.

However, five years down the road, with Liberians being not just spectators in their own economy, but have become total beggars in their own country based on government’s inability to attract foreign investments into the country which could alleviate the massive suffering and abject poverty now very glaring in every little place one looks, with people wearing pitiful faces and crying out with hands stretched out for a drop of something to bite on.

This pathetic scenario is obtaining every day in a country graciously endowed with multiple most needed rich mineral and natural resources coupled with rich soil, climate as well as reliable and rain forests and dependable Marnie blessings-like the Atlantic Ocean including many water outlets that could generate more revenues it taken care of and handled with pride and care.

Now, the Human Rights reports with emphasis on the sad developments at most of the industrial sites which has inflicted deaths, unbelievable injuries and grim sorrows, characterized the weakness of the leadership inclusive concern about how things are developing and unfolding in the country which should trigger some stocktaking exercise periodically wherein the authority will know where, an when to shift its gear of concern and attention for the need of developments.

The reports pointed out that the government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department is responsible for enforcing government-established wage, hour, and health and safety standards in the formal sector, but there is no system for monitoring and enforcement in the informal sector.

The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Observers reported labor inspectors solicited and took bribes to certify compliance with regulations, and the labor inspectorate id not track numbers of individual inspections or violations.

                      No Record Kept

The country did not keep records of industrial accidents, but evidence pointed to mining, construction, forestry, fishing, and agriculture as the most dangerous sectors. Hazardous occupations were especially dangerous in the informal sector, such as illegal fishing, logging, and mining, where the lack of regulation and remediation contributed to fatalities and obscured accountability, the reports indicated.

Citing some examples of sad moments at the industrial sites, the reports observed that on August 18, at least seven persons were injured at the Sethi Ferro Fabrik Incorporated modern steel manufacturing company in Gardnersville following an explosion at the facility. According to eyewitnesses, the explosion occurred following a surge to an electric induction arc furnace that was being used to melt steel by one of the workers at the facility.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Liberia National Police arrived on the scene to assess and investigate the cause of the explosion and its effect on the environment.

On August 21, Emmanuel Joe, an employee of the Liberia Agriculture Company in Wee Statutory District, Grand Bassa County, was killed by a rubber processing machine when a breaker was reportedly turned on by another worker while the victim was cleaning it.

Informal Sector: Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. Most citizens (estimated at 80 percent) worked in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal-sector workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others.

In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries. Illegal mining of gold was rampant throughout the country and posed serious safety risks, resulting in the deaths of several persons every year.

 The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. Children were vulnerable to hazardous work because the government had not yet designated hazardous work categories, as stipulated by the law.

The law prohibits most full-time employment of children younger than age. Children older than 13 but younger than 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week.

“Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law.

There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Children 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and a child may not work more than four hours consecutively.

The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than 16.

The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until age 15.

Gaps existed, however, in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, including the one-year break between the compulsory education age and the minimum age for work.

Additionally, the minimum age for work was not in compliance with international standards because it allows children younger than 16 to engage in work if it is outside of school hours, the employer keeps records of the child’s schooling, and the child is literate and attends school regularly. Because of these legal gaps, children of any age were vulnerable to child labor.

Although the law prohibits children younger than 15 from working full time, it does not prevent children below this age from engaging in part-time employment.

The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. The ministry did not provide statistics on whether such permits were either requested or issued.

The government prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but had not yet published a hazardous work list, leaving children vulnerable to hazardous work in certain sectors. The law penalizes employers who violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws and parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision.

According to the law, “A parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”

The National Commission on Child Labor, composed of representatives of the government, workers, and employers, as well as child advocacy groups and civil society organizations, engaged in efforts to create the necessary awareness of the danger and implications of child labor in the country.

The commission is responsible for coordinating enforcement of child labor laws and policies but did not do so effectively. Labor inspectors were assigned to monitor and address child labor but were understaffed.

The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee) with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor.

The committee consists of the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes the National Commission on Child Labor); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection’s Human Rights Division; and the police’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section.

The government investigated seven cases and initiated prosecutions of two defendants, a decrease from 18 investigations and four prosecutions in 2020.

-Writes GDJ

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