In a clear bid to stop employers from unlawfully laying off staff during this critical global health crisis posed by the deadly Corona Virus pandemic, the Government of Liberia on March 23, 2020 issued a “COVID-19 Preparedness Guide for Workplaces and Workers in Liberia”. Within the framework of Government’s COVID-19 Preparedness Guide, specifically under Chapter 6, Section 6.3, the Ministry of Labor categorically stated:
“There should be no employees’ layoff except in the case of redundancy where the law remains fully applicable. Employers wishing to reduce staff not classified under redundancy must pay the staff full salary in accordance with the usual pay periods provided for in their contract of employment.”
But in complete contravention of government’s mandate warning employers against unlawfully laying off employees without factoring in the case of redundancy, Bridge International Academies, one of several education providers in Liberia issued directives to its Liberian branch staff, demanding that employees go on “Compulsory leave’ without pay for a period of one month effective the 1st of April to 30th of April, 2020, subject to any extension ‘If the situation in the country persists’ document in our possession says.
Griffin Asigo, Country Director of the program, a Kenyan who since absconded the country in the wake of the pandemic said, ‘non-essential’ staff with accrued paid annual leave will be factored into the Compulsory leave period and paid. He continued “The employees temporarily laid off will attract a gratuitous payment equivalent to 10% of their salaries under contract and retain their medical health insurance benefit,”
The Country Director’s COVID-19 employee layoff communication sees some employees to now earn as low as 10 percent of their intake monthly which is far below minimum wage and contravenes the Government’s policy during the pandemic. The government itself has already placed several employees on paid leave in an effort to curtail overcrowding of the work place.
Our source said the company upon hearing about just three cases in Liberia has since shut down its operations, expatriates left the country and her premises now only manned by securities. Is this a squash of the partnership with the Liberian people; abandoning them in crisis and showing least support to the communities where at least two hundred schools operate making millions in donors money? This leaves many to wonder.
“These measures amount to a temporary variation of your terms and conditions of employment with respect to scope of work, place of work and remuneration, and are considered reasonable in the circumstances and for the duration the company fails to resume normal operations as a consequence of the pandemic and the closure directive. The measures are scheduled to be effective from April 1 to April 30, 2020 and subject to any extension the Company may communicate if schools remain closed beyond this period, or until such time as schools will be directed to reopen whichever is earlier,” Griffin said in his letter to each staff, a copy we have.
‘We see this action by Bridge a total disregard to workers’ plights during this pandemic as well as flagrant disregard of the government and people of Liberia, the company has to rethink’ a staff speaking on condition anonymity said.
The Corona Virus global pandemic, many Bridge Liberia insiders believe, has given the Bridge Country Director a chance to escape scrutiny from recent legislative inquiries. It can be recalled, Mr. Asigo was asked by the Liberian Legislature recently to publish apologies for neglecting calls by the House Committee on Education to appear and provide pertinent documents about Bridge Liberia operations and its personnel.
Mr. Asigo, many Bridge-Liberia insiders are saying, is using the Corona Virus global pandemic to deprive workers of their just earnings while employers of other companies in Liberia and abroad are finding innovative solutions to the economic crunch that the COVID-19 pandemic presents.
Being a global company, Bridge continued to pay employees in America and Europe while the pandemic rampaged but refuses to do same in Africa where there are less cases making one to wonder if the idea is racist.
Every attempt to reach Bridge Country Director proved fruitless as we were told he has since departed the country.