Liberia: Margibi Legislative Caucus Tours Firestone Liberia Company as Workers Decry Bad Labor Practices
Harbel, Margibi County – A delegation of four Margibi Lawmakers last Friday visited Firestone Liberia Company to interact with the company’s workers and get first-hand information about the company’s operations.
The delegation included Representative Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh of Margibi-Electoral District One, Chairperson; Representative Ellen Attoh-Wreh of Margibi-Electoral District Three, Co-Chairperson; Representative Ivar K. Jones of Margibi-Electoral District Two, Secretary General and Representative Ben A. Fofana of Margibi-Electoral District Four.
Also representing Firestone Liberia Management were Richard Fallah, Government Relations Manager; Patrick Rodrigo, Director of Operations and Patrick Honnah, Communications Manager.
During the tour, the fact-finding delegation visited the company’s employee housing units in Harbel Camp #3 and Regent City. The Lawmakers also interacted with some medical opinion workers in Harbel and extended the tour to a New Development working site where some workers alarmed the “appalling” working environment.
The daylong tour concluded in Division #19, one of the divisions which contain young rubber trees and are subcontracted to local contractors.
In New Camp #3 and Regent City in Harbel, the company’s workers complained that the newly constructed housing units lack electricity and space to accommodate them and their dependents. The employees also frowned on the dilapidated condition of their bathrooms which are distance away from the housing units.
“Our housing conditions are bad. The distance from the units to the bathrooms is about a ten-minute walk. If you are seriously pressed, you must walk very fast to avoid disgrace. There is no electricity in the units. We buy Chinese lights to help our children study. The units are not even spacious. My three girls sleep in one room next my room, while the boys sleep in the sitting room”, George Kollie narrated.
Commenting on the difficult working situation, Togbah Yan, a new development worker explained: “This slashing job is very difficult, and my salary has reduced badly. I slash about two lines from block to block daily. Look at my hands. I started Firestone job within the Estate Department as a tapper during when my salary was around US $200.00. But now slashing, my salary has dropped to US $80.00. The Government should kindly intervene into our situation”.
Employees, who sustained injuries in rendering their services, alleged that the company has reneged in paying their salaries and benefits, thereby causing them and their dependents to suffer.
“All of us here have been employed with Firestone from different departments. Before our employment, we were sent to hospital, and medical tests were done. And we were declared fit to work. We then developed individual problems during our service with the company. At certain times, our various departments decided to send us for medical opinions, during which our various medical reports indicated that we were unfit to work after developing the problems during our services. Since we were declared unfit from the problems developed, the company refused to pay us or even give our benefits”, Patrick Symuapoe from the Plant Protection Department asserted.
Briefing the press following the tour, the Margibi County Legislative Caucus Chairperson, Representative Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh described the tour as an “eye opener”.
Representative Tarponweh said while the Government is under obligation to protect the rights of concessionaires, the Government is more concerned about seeking and protecting the welfare of the Liberian people.
The Margibi District One Lawmaker vowed that the County Caucus will consistently engage Firestone so that all what were observed are addressed.
“This trip was an eye opener. We will do this again in the not-too-distant future because our paramount concern here is our people’s welfare. Those who work here must be part of our advocacy and representation. We saw things that we must go back, regroup and have our official report ready in due time. I must assure that some of these things that were noticed will be addressed”, Representative Tarponweh assured.
Speaking on behalf Firestone Liberia Management, the Government Relations Manager, Richard Fallah said the company welcomes the tour. Mr. Fallah also noted that some of the concerns raised will be addressed.
Firestone entered into a concession agreement with the Government of Liberia in 1926 to engage in the cultivation and exportation of rubber products. But the management continues to complain that the company’s operations face daunting challenges due to the decrease in the price of rubber.
Since the company began its massive redundancy in 2019, it has come under staunch criticism from a Margibi Lawmaker, Representative Tarponweh, which led to the appearance of the company management before the Plenary of the House of the House of Representatives in 2020.
During the management’s appearance, the company was requested to produce its five-year financial reports and other subcontracting documents as part of the investigation.
The Margibi Caucus have been consistently engaging Firestone to live up to their concession agreement.