Catholic Teachers’ Strike in Liberia’s Monrovia Archdiocese “gross unfairness”: Official

Fr. Sumo-Varfee Molubah, the Education Secretary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia.

The ongoing strike by teachers and members of support staff serving in Catholic schools under Liberia’s Monrovia Archdiocese has been termed “gross unfairness” to other stakeholders of the learning institution, including learners and their respective parents.

In an interview with ACI Africa, an official of the Catholic Education Secretariat (CES) in the pastoral jurisdiction of Monrovia Archdiocese, said four of the five demands of the members of the Association of Catholic School Teachers and Support Staff (ACTS INC.) “are not appropriate.”

“The action of some personnel to stop work is gross unfairness to the students, parents/guardians, the Catholic Church, Liberia and the world at large,” the Education Secretary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia, Fr. Sumo-Varfee Molubah told ACI Africa Monday, October 19. 

Making reference to the October 3 letter issued by the boycotting personnel, Fr. Sumo-Varfee said, “I can simply assert that all of the demands, except number one are not appropriate!” 

In their collective letter addressed to the leadership of CES, members of ACTS INC. announced their strike that was to kick off ten days later on October 13. In the letter, they outlined five demands that must be met by their employer before they would consider returning to work. 

For one, the members of ACTS INC. demand the payment “in full” of all their respective salary arrears for the months of May, June and July. 

Two, CES employees ask their employer to pay the National Social Security Premium for each of the ACTS INC members and issue them a Social Security Valid Identification Card.

Their third demand is that their employer reduces the probation period from three years to three months constitute the third demand by ACTS INC members to the leadership of CES.

They further ask their employer to include them in the formation of the new personnel policy manual.

The employees who made real their ultimatum for the strike call on their employer to issue them with pays lips that indicate the deductions made in their gross salary and their take-home-salary that remains after the various subtraction. 

In the October 19 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Sumo-Varfee said that while the first demand by ACTS INC members is appropriate, it is “not correct to the full extent in demanding for full salary.”

“The Ministry of Labor of the Republic of Liberia came up with a COVID-19 regulation that employers pay 50 percent of the salary for the months of May, June and July 2020 when most public and private institutions were shut down,” he explained.

Making reference to the August 3 message addressed to all the personnel of the learning institutions under the Archdiocese of Monrovia, Fr. Sumo-Varfee said that “CES released a memorandum to every personnel ... making a commitment to” make the payments.

The salaries for the months of May, August and September were paid by the end of September, the Cleric told ACI Africa, adding that “the 50 percent for June, as well as July, are yet to be paid.”

“Serious efforts are being made to pay these; so, it is actually fair to describe these as the only genuine arrears yet in 2020 that need to be settled,” Fr. Sumo-Varfee told ACI Africa. 

Regarding the demand for Social Security (SS) ID cards, the Liberian Priest said that only the SS department in Liberia “is allowed to produce SS cards and assign SS numbers.”

In the interview with ACI Africa, the Priest also refuted the claims that CES puts her employees on three years of probation saying, “This is definitely not what we do or have done. We strictly stick to the legal rules and regulations when it comes to any form of employment.”

Referencing the employees demand to be included in the formation of policies, the Cleric said, “We as the employer cannot accept that our policies are developed by employees; this is clearly the duty of employers and we cannot accept that this duty be taken away from us.”

Fr. Samo-Varfee added that employees obtain pay slips that include their deductions, net salaries and gross salaries “from any of our schools without the involvement of the CES.” 

CES will “continue dialogue and negotiations for a favorable solution” for both parties, the Education Secretary said.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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