Monrovia – Stephen Nahn had no idea he would end up without a right hand when he went to work on a normal working day on February 1, 2016.
Nahn told FrontPageAfrica recently that he had no idea the rock-crushing machine had been turned on – and one of his peers or supervisor give him any indication that it was, which is a violation of AML’s safety policy. Nearly four years later, Nahn says he is struggling to move around, since he lost his arm, which was cut off from his shoulder, in the crushing machine that grinds iron ore.
“ArcelorMittal has not taken any initiative to look out for me. Since July until now, I have not received anything, referring to his salary payments” Nahn says.
As a result of the accident, Nahn can no longer work to support his family. These days, according to union members, Mr. Nahn walks around AML compound picking up palm nuts to cook a day’s meal.
Nahn, who will never be able to work again, was reportedly compensated with a one-time US$9,000 payment which as he describes it, he was told that the money was to help his family during those dark and difficult days following the accident; it has already been depleted, forcing him into living palm nuts just to survive.
‘The Company Wronged Me’
Recently, Nahn, and many others working for the steel giant received termination letters, stating that if they were not back to work in July, they will be terminated, which was carried out.
Nahn, a young man in the prime of his life has now been thrown to the wolves to suffer and die because according to him, “people with all their body parts in this country can’t find job, who will hire me with one hand to earn a living? “ArcelorMittal nah kill me because I was told that I am being thrown out of the company house soon. Where place I will go? I don’t have any money to get a lawyer to fight for me with this big giant company. The company wrong me.”
Nahn is not alone! According to Union sources, in recent weeks, several employees were dismissed after sustaining injuries on the job and could not work.
In July 2017, Amos Mylemon, another young man in the prime of his life, received severe electrical burns over almost his entire body when he and other workers were patrolling the railroad tracks and were struck by lightning.
Mylemon was taken to JFK hospital where he had several fingers and toes cut off and stayed for a very long time before being discharged and advised to seek immediate medical treatment abroad for reconstructive surgery, which the company agreed to underwrite.
Three years later, Mylemon is still lingering in Liberia while the company continues give one excuse after the other about why they have not followed the doctor’s advice, but instead continue to put the union through a lot of bureaucracies. Said a union source, “if Mylemon was an expat, the company would have sent him for medical treatment on a charter flight, but he is a black/Liberian man.”
Mylemon is afraid that he will soon face the same fate as Stephen Nahn, to get kicked out of the company assigned house, suffer and die with nothing, because the steel giant failed to honor its obligations to him.
Several other employees according to the Union were sacked and not given any benefits after getting hurt on the job.
No Retirement Benefits for Locals:
Union members say local staffs are retired with no benefits or retirement packages even after working for the company for years or having reached retirement age of 65. Tom (not his real name), worked for ArcelorMittal for more than 12 years. By all accounts he was a stellar employee and received many commendations from management of his goal-getting approach to work. He never missed a day from work and was well liked.
On the day he clocked 65, Tom was called in and given a letter thanking him “for his services” and was told that he is retired. No goodbye reception (that the company reserves for departing expats). No certificate. No recognition for years of dedicated service. Not even a farewell call from the CEO or his immediate boss.
Tom was asked to turn in even the cellphone given to him by ArcelorMittal 8 years earlier.
Like Tom, the Union says locals are simply given a letter of retirement and sent to apply to social security, while their expats colleagues ride off on a white horse with a full benefit package and an all-expense paid trip back home.
ArcelorMittal insists that it is acting in conformity with the Decent Work Act, Social Security and other labor laws.
Poor Housing Conditions & Silent Protests:
Union members say, the company took advantage of a loophole in the MDA which does not make any specific reference to accommodations for employees. Housing being provided today is as a result of the Union demands supported by AML’s internal housing policies.
Most employees live in dilapidated housing and are offered one meal, with either one piece of chicken or fish, in a separate “African” canteen, while expats live in fully furnished units and get three square meals a day in the “International Canteen”.
“Majority of the houses in Yekepa and Buchanan are not renovated and left with trees growing in them. This, sadly include LAMCO days senior staff bungalows in the famous Area F.
Management instead pays meager stipends disguised as “housing allowance” to keep employees who do not have housing quiet.”
Most lowly paid Union employees live in cramped containers in an area in the Concession called Red Sea Camp an area notorious for high crime. This is the area where the 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped in June by the AML school bus driver.
Other areas of the concession are not maintained and continue to have problems with dangerous snakes (cobras, boa constrictors) entering employees’ homes due to unkept bushy areas.
Even with 24-hour security theft is rampant and Security personnel claim they are not paid for months, sometimes up to three (3) months.
Union members have also been raising concerns that as the COVID pandemic raged, local staffers continue to work together in cramped quarters, most expats worked from home.
Over the last three weeks, members of the union have been staging silent protests by wearing stickers on their helmets and working clothes demanding payment of hazard allowance as their colleagues have received.
Several union members say, the management has turned a blind eye to the demands of the union and silent protests.
Promotions, but No Salary Change:
According to the union, the company has given letters of promotion to several local staff, some dating back as far back as 2016. Nevertheless, even though these staff have been working in these roles, all of those still holding letters of promotion has not received a cent in salary increment to commensurate with their promotion.
In April, the company again issued promotion letters to all those who received letters years ago and claimed it was correcting the ills of past the administration. Again, history has repeated itself because the company again halted all promotions salary adjustments until further notice, while these employees continue to slave in the mines and shatter production records. According to several union officials, “the company has no respect for its local staff and feels that we do not have any recourse, so they just treat us any way. Where in the world can this sort of thing happen, especially since ArcelorMittal is an international multi-billion-dollar company? They come to our country and live like kings and pay us peanuts and take advantage of us because we are poor.”
Internal documents provided by the Union representatives in possession of FrontPageAfrica show that despite the shattering of production records by the nationals, the expats, according to union sources, received huge bonuses while the locals who do most of the work were only given a half bag (25kg) of rice each (this usually serves as the REWARD to the workers for every achievement).
Addressing the issue of the rice bonus to some staffers, the company explained: “The system at ArcelorMittal Liberia that provides additional rice bonus (over and above the Certified Bargaining Agreement remuneration) was established to recognize safety and production performance. This system has been in place since mid-2019, well before the COVID-19 crisis.”
The Union vehemently disagrees with what it calls, “the rice-for-extra-work scheme” and sees it as disrespectful to hardworking Liberian employees.
COVID Hazard Pay Discrimination:
In recent months, the union says, AML Concessions in Yekepa and Buchanan had several COVID-19 cases, including two deaths. Nurses and hospital staff who worked on the frontline in hazardous conditions, treating COVID patients was also DENIED temporary adjustment to their compensation for this “special occasion,” as referred to COVID by the CEO when the company approved temporary adjustment to expats compensation.
The Union filed a complaint to the Ministry of Labor against AML, citing among other things, unfair labor practice, unequal treatment of all workers, and refusal to pay risk benefit for the COVID-19.
The Ministry of Labor issued a ruling dated 10th August 2020 stating among other things that the steel giant was in error to grant a higher than nor pay to its foreign workers on account of the Covid-19 pandemic and mandated AML to communicate to the Ministry by August 31, 2020 a payment proposal for hardship/risk allowance to be paid to national employees.
The Liberian law also talks about equal treatment of all employees, which in the case is not.
Scott Lowe, the CEO from Australia is being accused by the union of giving huge bonuses to expats under the guise that the company is honoring its contractual obligations but refused to give the locals any such bonus. Instead, when mine workers demanded just compensation for breaking records, Mr. Lowe gave one half bag (25kg) of rice each as REWARD for shattering Production records in the history of AM, during the height of COVID-19. Records from 2010 to 2020 including all mining ever done by AML. DSO records in 2020 with the longest haul ever.
The management also rejected requests from the Union for COVID/hazard pay for local workers, but instead APPROVE it for expats only. Furthermore, according to communications in FPA’s possession, in the midst of COVID pandemic, AML mine worker ramped up production and broke record of production.
The Union also claims that management have also rejected requests from nationals and the Union for COVID hazard pay for locals and even refused to pay hazard pay to nurses and hospital staff who worked in hazardous conditions treating COVID patients in the AML concession areas (Yekepa and Buchanan).
AML rejected this claim, stating that it was not paying “hazard pay” to expats, but honoring its contractual obligations, to which no proof was provided to the Ministry of Labor.
FrontPageAfrica recently submitted a list of questions to the company in a bid to have some of the lingering issues being raised by the union addressed.
Regarding the issue of the hazard pay, ArcelorMittal Liberia says none of its staff (local or international) have received a hazard benefit and the Company says Liberian Labor Law does not require it to make such payments. “Some expats who were unable to return to their home countries for leave due to the pandemic, have had management paid for their unused leave, as they have stayed in Liberia and continue to work. This is not a hazard pay. ArcelorMittal Liberia has also ensured that zero locals have had their pay reduced.”
According to document supplied by the Union, in April the CEO secretly sent out letters to only expats thanking them for their contributions to AML in “challenging circumstances.”
According to a copy of the letter supplied by the Union, the CEO informed expats that their base salaries remain the same, except for their additional country allowance which was now being reduced to 40% in some cases. However, all expats across the board were paid an additional non-taxable US$1,500 (one thousand five hundred dollars) during the period of the COVID.
The communication, effective April 1, 2020, all expats “new compensation” will be calculated for this “special occasion” and working in Liberia monthly Base Salary + Country allowance (60%) + $ totaled, 1,500 while working from your home country monthly-base salary remains the same.
AML says its entire workforce is appreciated and recognized for their service and excellence on the job at all times in line with our culture of gratitude. “On May 6, 2020, ArcelorMittal Liberia’s CEO Scott Lowe sent a message of recognition for teamwork and collaboration to the entire workforce for their service and steadfastness, especially during the COVID-19 period.”
“People with all their body parts in this country can’t find job, who will hire me with one hand to earn a living? “ArcelorMittal nah kill me because I was told that I am being thrown out of the company house soon. Where place I will go? I don’t have any money to get a lawyer to fight for me with this big giant company. The company wrong me.”– Stephen Nahn
MDA Shortcomings and Corporate Responsibility Failures:
FrontPageAfrica has also learned that AML is in violation of several provisions of the MDA requirements.
In January 2019, the House Committee on Lands, Mines, and Energy, wrote a scathing report on AML’s continuous violations of the MDA after conducting a site visit for several days and holding meetings with the company to see how conditions can be improved.
The focal points of the visit centered on the hospital, availability and conditions of company housing, AML school system, AML’s contribution to Nimba County Community College, numerous complaints about the steel giant’s use of private land through deceptive practices, and Environment concerns-sediment control, among others.
On December 16, 2019, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Mines and Energy, wrote AML (a copy of the letter in the possession of FrontPageAfrica) citing among many other things, “The Government of Liberia wishes to further emphasize that based on its records, AML is not in full fiscal and technical compliance and has since issued the appropriate notification to AML about these issues.”
Substandard Hospital Conditions:
Article X of the AML MDA states “shall construct, maintain and operate health facilities in the Concession Area, and shall install, maintain and use modern health devices and equipment and shall practice modern health procedures and precautions in accordance with accepted international medical standards. In connection with the Operations, the CONCESSIONAIRE shall install, maintain and use appropriate and modern health and safety facilities and shall train its employees in accordance with generally accepted health and safety procedures and practices.”
However, currently ArcelorMittal appears to operate two hospitals, one for white people and one for blacks.
That the black people hospital in Buchanan (Stephen Allen Tolbert Hospital), constructed by the company’s predecessor is poorly operated (not open to the public, lack of proper or adequate medications and other equipment, contain a single medical doctor who has aged, etc.) whilst the white people hospital (operated by MedAir) in the loop and Yekepa is fully funded and has all the basic equipment.
Expats have full health insurance for they and their families while nationals are subjected to a hospital with little or no medications or working equipment. Both hospitals in Yekepa and Buchanan do not even have working x-ray machines or morgues.
Both Yekepa and Buchanan hospitals are in poor sanitary conditions, are understaffed, and have been cited for not meeting standards.
Sources have revealed that the white people hospital routinely send all their drugs that are nearing its expiration to the nationals hospital for use. According to the source who wanted to remain anonymous, this is a routine practice.
Addressing the issue, AML maintains that it is meeting its obligation to fund and operate hospitals as required under the MDA. “The Company has recently invested in major improvements including but not limited to recruitment of additional staff, building renovations and purchase of new ventilators, oxygen concentrators and other equipment necessary to prepare for an increase in patients due to COVID-19. ArcelorMittal Liberia’s health staff collaborate closely with county health officials regarding standards of care provided.”
According to the company, the hospitals and clinics care for patients from the local areas irrespective of nationality, ethnicity or employment status. “While these facilities have been established to provide healthcare services for employees and their families, they are also made available for other members of the community.”
No Liberian in Senior Management Role:
Appendix G of the MDA referencing EMPLOYMENT OF LIBERIAN CITIZENS, states clearly that “Within 365 days after the Amendment Effective Date, the CONCESSIONAIRE shall appoint a Liberian citizen to one of the top three management positions at the CONCESSIONAIRE.
Union notes that in flagrant violation of the MDA all the senior managerial roles including the top 4 (including CEO, Chief Operating Officer—COO, Chief Financial Officer—CFO, Head of Procurement/Supply Chain Management) are all occupied by expats, which according to the MDA should be held by Liberians.
“Even the head of Mines is a 30-year-old expat who was trained by a Liberian. The Warehouse Manager, Quality Control Manager, and even Chief Cost Accountant are all expats,” one Union member told FPA recently.
On this, AML says Liberians currently hold 66% of the senior management positions at ArcelorMittal Liberia. “This exceeds the 50% of senior management minimum required by the MDA. Over 96% of all positions are held by Liberians.”
Additionally, ArcelorMittal is also said to be in violation of ARTICLE XI EDUCATION AND SKILLS TRAINING, which requires the concessionaire to provide free primary and secondary education in each of the locations.
Buchanan does not have a school system. The buildings that housed the famous Swedish-Liberian International school during the LAMCO days have been turned into offices and the gym is now a warehouse.
The Union believes that since none of the expats do not have any family member in Liberia, the company has no motivation to create a functional school system as required by the MDA. Instead, the Union says ArcelorMittal placates Liberian employees by giving them tuition reimbursement stipends which is paid once a year.
AML began operations in 2006 and currently has about 1700 employees including almost 350 contractors. There are approximately 62 expatriates (CEO, CFO, COO). The company’s primary focus is on shipment of ore with no plans for beneficiations. While LAMCO and LIMINCO had pelletizing plants and other value-added ventures, the company only digs, and ships high quality ore known as DSO (direct shipment ore), without the benefit of building a Concentrator, in compliance with the MDA, which was flagged in the House of Representatives scathing report last year.
The company ramped up its digging and shipment of DSO during the COVID-19 pandemic shattering all digging and shipment records in the company.
According to the direct Shipment Ore (DSO) Records, the company recorded its highest DSO in a month ever – January of 2020, second highest DSO in month ever – April of 2020, highest DSO in a quarter ever – First Quarter of 2020 and second highest DSO in a quarter ever -Second Quarter of 2020.
Additionally, the company recorded its third highest ever monthly material – May of 2020 and its third highest ever quarterly material -Second Quarter of 2020.
AML does not have an office in Monrovia, except a one-room office near the NPA which is used for receiving and forwarding packages but lacks basic necessities like a bathroom for employees. The steel giant has no problem with its staff in Monrovia going to shops in the area to use the bathroom or sometimes even using the streets to ease themselves.
Standoff Deal Agreed, but…
As the on-again, off-gain labor issues linger, a tripartite meeting amongst the Government of Liberia, Arcelor Mittal Liberia (AML) and aggrieved workers who were made redundant by AML in 2015 and 2016, reached an agreement last week aimed at ending the latest standoff which resulted into a blockade of the rail tracks that Arcelor Mittal operates.
Under the agreement, which was struck following discussions on Saturday, August 22 at the Ministry of Justice, the company is required to financially compensate the aggrieved employees. It was also established that the company did not give the right of first refusal to them before filling their positions.
In a statement after Saturday’s meeting, AML thanked the government for its mediation efforts, while committing to negotiate a financial compensation package for “eligible redundant employees”. It also requested an immediate removal of all obstacles blocking the railroad as of the 22nd of August.
The Ministers of Justice, Labour and the Legal Advisor to the President led the talks while the aggrieved workers were represented by their Chairman, Kinston Nyandibo and several other representatives. Arcelor Mittal’s Chief Operating Officer, Johannes Heyatek, led an array of the company’s managers
The dispute between AML and the aggrieved former employees which had been ongoing for several years came to a head on Tuesday when several workers who claimed to have been declared redundant illegally staged a protest action by blocking sections of the Tokadeh – Buchanan railroad use by AML to transport iron ore from its mining sites in Nimba to the Port of Buchanan.
How long the latest stalemate lasts, remains to be seen. With much of the issues raised by the union still in the air, industry observers say AML has it work cut out in finding a permanent solution to a nagging issue continue to dog its operations in Liberia.