Workers in Sierra Leone’s financial sector face exploitation and human rights abuse

CHRDI: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 May 2019:

Many of the problems faced by workers in Sierra Leone are procedurally unfair and illegal, but the authorities remain apathetic in the face of the problem. Our research shows that workers’ employment rights are not being upheld.

They are likely to be bullied or discriminated against by supervisors or managers, experience problems obtaining their pay, have excessive workloads, and are not treated with dignity or respect.

We at Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) have conducted detailed research, and are asking  the government of Sierra Leone to ensure that workers are not subjected to practices that border on modern day slave-like conditions.

CHRDI believes that many conflicts are sparked by a failure to protect human rights, and the trauma that results from severe human rights violations often leads to new human rights violations.

(Photo: Bank of Sierra Leone – the banking regulator).

According to our findings, local and foreign banks operating in Sierra Leone have blacklisted over 400 bank workers, and over 500 are subject to poor working conditions.

Among the violations documented in our report is the practice of forcing workers into working long hours without any over-time payment.

Many bank workers in Sierra Leone report for work at 7am and work till 11pm daily, from Monday to Friday without any consideration of their work-life balance from their employers.

Cases of discrimination against female workers who get pregnant and related sexual harassment at the workplace were two key concerns for female workers in Sierra Leone that were expressed to us.

Discrimination against pregnant female workers takes different forms at different stages of the employment process, including during hiring, promotion, and dismissal, and coupled with failure to provide appropriate workplace conditions to address the needs of pregnant female workers.

Unfortunately, most financial institutions, especially commercial banks operating in Sierra Leone currently, lack adequate and effective investment policies to address the harmful business practices of their corporate clients and staff.

Even the self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ banks can and do take full advantage of our weak laws to stifle freedom of association, individual growth, rightful benefits and work-life balance.

Banks are also in the habit of disrespecting the employment laws. For example, it is required by law that they are allowed to bring in three expatriates but all of the foreign owned banks employ more than five foreigners without going through due process.

We believe that lack of accountability, coupled with the failure of the Central Bank and the Labor inspectorate to enforce compliance with applicable labor laws and regulations for poor working conditions in the Financial Sector is at the center of troubled industrial relations in Sierra Leone.

This lack of accountability only encourages Financial Institution(s) in Sierra Leone to continue to recklessly contribute to unsustainable business practices and human rights violations in the interest of turning a profit.

This report demonstrates the urgent need for binding regulations that address human rights issues; it further calls on political decision makers and Financial Institutions to install and implement transparent policies and regulations that secure human rights.

Human rights are universal. This means that every person around the world, including Sierra Leone, deserves to be treated with dignity and their interests given equal consideration. While governments have the duty to protect individuals against human rights abuses, businesses are increasingly expected to perform their own moral, legal, and commercial responsibility.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, form the basis for what businesses should adhere to.

Businesses can hinder human rights, as evidenced by reports around the world of unsafe working conditions, migrant worker exploitation, and harm done to communities. On the other hand, they  can help advance human rights by offering access to decent work, creating higher living standards, protecting children’s rights and procuring goods in a responsible manner.

The 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone enshrines the freedom of association, health and safety at work, fair working conditions, equal pay for equal work and fair compensation. Unfortunately, many of the important laws regulating the labour market in Sierra Leone date back to 1960s and are totally irrelevant to the present context.

Photo: CHRDI Director – Abdul Fatorma

We at CHRDI are aware that Sierra Leone like many other African countries is taking steps to becoming self-sufficient by creating economically viable entities and ensuring there are attractive, investor-friendly policies, which will not be detrimental to indigenous workers.

Nevertheless, there has been a spike in reports about workplace violations, like physical abuse committed by foreign investors on local and government employees.

Sadly, there are always many more unemployed laborers waiting at the front gates of these foreign firms, begging for jobs.

We are also aware that The United Nations Guiding Principles are not, in themselves, legal requirements on businesses. However, in some of these areas, the standards expected of businesses have also been translated into domestic legislation that is legally binding on all business.

In view of all of the above, CHRDI is calling on the Government of Sierra Leone, international agencies such as the ILO and UN-Human Rights to include and prioritise the removal of all forms of human right abuses at the workplace in their programmes, in order  to end abuse at all levels of employment in Sierra Leone.

About the author

Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI ) is a Rights based Public social-policy advocacy Organisation. We Draw attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights. CHRDI is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.

4 Comments

  1. Let’s face the truth and be honest with the employees of these institutions. Sierra Leone is a signee to the Geneva Convention of ILO a branch of the UN. It established clear labor laws that govern and protect employees in member countries. Also, parliament has its own labor laws in place to protect employees.

    What we lack is, due to endemic corruption and outright indifference of those who are in power, the audacity to challenge these institutions to abide by stated international regulations and host country laws pertaining to workers’ rights. Workers whose rights are infringed upon are often bullied by their employers to accept the company’s dismal working conditions or else lose their jobs.

    We need to hold accountable the government to go after these companies that abuse the labor laws. Only then shall we see improvement in workers’ rights with higher wages which will translate to better living conditions for the workers and their families.

  2. This is not only a human rights issue but CORRUPTION at it’s HIGHEST. Mr. Abdul Fatorma, just inform the ACC. They will be in a better position to help.

  3. Indeed, such a well written article should remove all doubts anyone may have regarding human rights abuses in the financial sector. If all that has been said and written here can be authenticated and found to be true, then government must act without delay.

    It is one thing to be a worker under bondage in lands faraway, but a different matter altogether being shackled by social, financial and economic chains in your own Country of birth. Totally unacceptable. Although not easy, the solutions can be attained and effectively put into practice in Sierra Leone, only if government wants to do so.

    But lets be realistic, in the African continent jobs are scare and most employers and their employees are fully aware of this problem. Greedy employers, like those in the financial sector, anxious for huge profits and increasing dividends, clearly understand also that employees are unprotected and vulnerable, having nowhere to run to for advice, protection and help. And so without showing any remorse or pity, they deliberately exploit and take full advantage of them.

    Its a difficult situation, being caught between a rock and a hard place – truth of the matters is that most employees will suffer and endure work related abuses in silence for fear of losing their jobs. True. And there you have it, losing a job and not being able to find another is one of the root causes of labor and work related exploitation. Employers need to be held accountable, no doubt about that.

    And this can be done through the creation of new carefully crafted laws that emphatically penalizes wrongdoers for their abuses and mistreatment of their employees. There has to be a start somewhere…such behaviors must not be allowed to continue, because eventually they will become widely acceptable norms, practiced by all.

    Government has to get involved, otherwise no credible hope for lasting, sustainable change. And get the support of labor unions also; solicit the help of lawyers, the media and other institutions and organisations, that can help highlight your predicament for the government and the world to see.

    Educating employees about their rights and responsibilities concerning their work, must be of the highest priority. Also, creating non-threatening channels and avenues through which employers can be contacted amicably – approached, reasoned and negotiated with, will surely open new doors to positive improvement and change in the workplace.

    And lastly, keep on pushing and don’t give up. Perseverance is the master key to unlocking all doors…Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

    • Good to have you. I’m a victim of financial institution maliciously dismissed without compensation.

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