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Sierra Leone Strike Suspended After Wage Promises

  • Nico Colombant

A general strike in one of the world's poorest countries, Sierra Leone, has been suspended after the government agreed to consider introducing a minimum wage.

Offices and hospitals reopened in the capital Freetown Wednesday after a two-day strike which shut down nearly all services.

Union leaders said the government had agreed to consider their key demand - implementing a minimum wage. They also said they had received pledges that salary taxes would be eliminated for those earning less than $90 a month.

Before the strike, the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah had previously tried to address another demand, by slashing the price of gas products by 20 percent.

But the director of the non-governmental National Accountability Group, Zinab Bangura, says there was no way to avoid such a strike.

"You know there is not much money in circulation," she said. "The standard of living has gone up very expensively. So, you [can't] even afford a bag of rice which is the staple food. So, basically, I think everybody should have seen it coming."

Sierra Leone is still recovering from a brutal ten-year civil war which ended in 2002, and reconstruction has been slow since then despite new aid money and a resurgent diamond industry.

Mrs. Bangura says many workers want a better accounting of what the government is doing with the country's resources.

"People need to know how much money in total the government gets a year, where does it go and how is it spent? And who spends it and what does it do? Until you do that people will blame the government, that we hear all this money coming in, but we're not seeing it," added Mrs. Bangura.

In 2004, Sierra Leone ranked last in the United Nations Human Development Index of 177 countries.