Liberia Redundant Workers Block ArcelorMittal’s Train Track over ‘Illegal’ Dismissal

Several of the aggrieved workers blocked the rail demanding to speak with President George Weah or the CEO of the company about their plights

Sanniquellie, Nimba County – Several ArcelorMittal redundant workers, who had threatened to disrupt the normal operations of the steel giant, Thursday, November 14, blocked the railways of the company’s trains. 

ArcelorMittal’s trains transport the ores from the mines in Yekepa, Nimba County, down to the port in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County.

The demonstrators went go on the rampage in demand for them being re-employed after they had been laid off a few years ago.

The head of the redundant workers, Mr. Kingston Nyandibo, told this newspaper that their action to block the railroads was based on the company’s failure to attend the November 12, 2019 meeting where both parties—redundant workers and ArcelorMittal—had agreed to meet and resolve the conflict.

The November 12, 2019 meeting was intended for the company to determine the fates of over 800 redundant workers, who were “illegally dismissed” and or “redundant.” But the company management refused to show up and didn’t provide any explanation for their absence.

The action by the redundant workers has stopped the movement of the company’s trains from Nimba to Grand Bassa with iron ore.

The demonstrators blocked the railroads near the public hospital, G. W. Harley Hospital in Sanniquellie.

“We will not leave this railroad until the President of Liberia, George Weah, and the CEO of the company can be present and talk with us.

“No one will leave this place today; we will cook our food and sleep there until we can see the President of the country and ArcelorMittal CEO.”

The demonstrators were peaceful throughout the day.

The former workers’ actions prevented ArcelorMittal from transporting its ore three times daily down to Buchanan.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney A. Sirleaf, along with local authorities of the county headed by Superintendent David Dorr Cooper and the head for the redundant workers and senior staff of ArcelorMittal met later in Ganta in order to find a way to stop the protest.

Even though it was raining in Sanniquellie, the redundant workers were under it preventing the company from working normally. 

A source from the meeting told this newspaper that Nyandibo was begged to speaking with his colleagues to abandon their protest action. They were further asked to give the company’s management two weeks to respond to their concerns.

Speaking to this newspaper, ArcelorMittal’s head of Corporate Communications, Amanda Hill, said the company recently learned that employees made redundant in 2016 were planning to interrupt operations by protesting along the rail lines in Nimba County, one of the three counties in the ArcelorMittal Liberia concession. 

“This action could put at risk, the safety of our staff and members of the community; we urge everyone concerned to address their concerns through the appropriate government channels,” she said. 

She defended that ArcelorMittal Liberia has been transparent in its conversations with the government concerning the reasons for the redundancy. 

“We will not leave this railroad until the President of Liberia, George Weah, and the CEO of the company can be present and talk with us. No one will leave this place today; we will cook our food and sleep there until we can see the President of the country and ArcelorMittal CEO.”

– Kingston Nyandibo, Spokesman of the aggrieved redundant workers

 According to her, since 2016, a large proportion of the redundant workers have in fact been re-employed and the company’s policy going forward is to give preference to such former employees when vacancies arise from time to time, provided applicants meet a range of important criteria including but not limited to qualifications and skills closely matching the requirement of the position.

She disclosed that the company is in communication with the relevant agencies within the Government of Liberia in relation to this matter. 

“Importantly, the company is in contact with the Ministry of Labor, whose mandate includes addressing the concerns of aggrieved workers.” 

“ArcelorMittal Liberia maintains its commitment to the people of Liberia and currently provides over 2500 jobs, with 96% of the positions being held by Liberians,” Amanda Hills told this newspaper.

Meanwhile, back in November 2018, the plenary of the House of Representatives, acting upon the recommendations of its Joint Committee on Mines, Energy, Environment and Health had requested ArcelorMittal Liberia to “unconditionally” reinstate all redundant and illegally dismissed workers.

ArcelorMittal, between 2015 and 2016 significantly laid off most its workers owing to “continuing unfavorable market conditions and changes to the company’s operating model.”

But the joint Committee, following an intensive investigation of the AML’s operations in Liberia, found the company liable of grossly violating the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) it signed with the Government of Liberia and called on the company to put back the workers to their previous positions within a period of four months.

“All redundant employees who were issued letters by AML Management with the hope of reinstating them when conditions improve should be unconditionally reinstated to their various existing positions without technicality of nomenclature within the period not exceeding four months and those contractors whose contracts were breached should be appropriately paid within the same period,” the joint Committee recommends.

The committee called for illegally dismissed employees to be reinstated immediately and those who inherited medical problems as a result of the job and considered physically incapable based on medical advice to be appropriately compensated.

In addition, the company is mandated to do away with the term “permanent contractor which contradicts the fair labor practices and labor laws of Liberia and citizens considered in said categories should be employed within two months; while all unskilled laborers should be recruited from the affected communities around the areas of operations.”