Liberia: House of Representatives Summons Firestone Management for Violating Plenary’s Stay Order

In a meeting with Mr. Don Darden, General Manager of the company in Plenary on Tuesday, July 13, 2020, Speaker Chambers compared the company’s decision to reduce its staff to strangulating a helpless person to death.

Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The management of Firestone Liberia has been summoned to appear before the House of Representatives today, Thursday under contempt charges for allegedly enforcing its redundancy plan amid a stay order placed by the House in July 2020.

The decision was taken by plenary on Tuesday based on a motion filed by Rep. Samuel Kogar (District #5, Nimba County) emanating from a communication by Representative Tibelrosa Tanpoweh (District #1, Margibi County) calling on the House to invite Firestone’s management to state why it was implementing its redundancy plan despite a stay order placed by the House of Representatives.

 “… Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, Firestone has been issuing letters of redundancy that was advised against by this plenary. We find that to be an affront. We don’t want our people to be railroaded. Where things belong, we must say. And therefore, Mr. Speaker, I ask that we should ask Firestone to reappear so that we can understand what they are doing,” said Rep. Tarponweh, while expounding his communication on the floor.

However, while majority members on the floor were in favor of the contempt charges levied against the company, some cautioned the House to be careful with how it goes about handling the situation.

Rep. Vincent Willie (District #4, grand Bassa County) said redundancy matter is a delicate issue that needs careful consideration by the Executive.

Supporting his colleague, Rep. Jeremiah Koung (District #1, Nimba County) also cautioned plenary to allow the Ministry of Labor take control of the situation. He warned that the House should be careful with how it handles the situation in order to not be seen of overstepping its bounds.

“Let’s live within our authority and allow the Ministry of Labor to intervene. You cannot make the law and stab it at the back,” he stated.

But Rep. Acarous Moses Gray (District #8, Montserrado County), in counter arguments, asserted that plenary was not acting outside of its mandate, rather it was concerned about the violation of the stay order and Firestone management’s reappearance before plenary.

Rep. Tibelrosa Tarponweh of Margibi County District #1 has been a staunch advocate for imminent redundant employees of Firestone Liberia.

Fueling The Feud

Meanwhile, Firestone management’s appearance before the House of Representatives today under contempt charges is much likely to heighten the already existing tension between the company and some officials of the Liberian Government who have termed the company’s decision to ‘consistently’ layoff huge portion of its Liberian workforce in recent years as unlawful.

In a meeting with Mr. Don Darden, General Manager of the company in Plenary on Tuesday, July 13, 2020, Speaker Chambers compared the company’s decision to reduce its staff to strangulating a helpless person to death, just as in the case of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American man who was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020 during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.

“We want it to be a message that you should ceased and desist. The people of Liberia are saying that it is inappropriate to do that now,” the Speaker said in his closing remarks.

The Speaker added: “The issue can be analogous to that of [George] Floyd. It is just like you put the knee to the neck [of a helpless person]. Mr. Darden, in these moments, I think Firestone is under obligation to do something decent for the Liberian people.”

Plenary, then acting on a motion from Rep. Acarous Gray, District #8, Montserrado County, prevailed on the company to delay its decision to lay off 374 employees until it can submit a comprehensive redundancy plan to the Ministry of Labor.

Earlier, Mr. Darden insisted to lawmakers that the decision of the company to cut its workforce was necessary to preserve the sustainability of the company’s operations in Liberia.

Labor Minister Moses Kollie disagreed, stating that the company has not provided any convincing instrument to the ministry to grant its request.

Rep. Tibelrosa Tarponweh (District No. 1,  Margibi County) who authored the communication to invite the management said Liberia has valued Firestone over the years but it has failed to give back to Liberians.

Rep. George Bolley of Grand Gedeh County, who boasted of having vast experience in Government and participating in countless negotiations with Firestone over the years, was emphatic in his condemnation when he said the company’s decision was a ploy it has mastered for decades and which was intended to keep exploiting the resources of the state at the detriment of the Government and its people. Rep. Bolley advised it was time to stand up to Firestone and protect the interest of the ordinary people.

Several other lawmakers including Representatives Edward Karfia of Bong County, Ellen Attoh, Ben Fofana, Ivar Jones all of Margibi, along with Mariamu Fofana and Clarence Massaquoi of Lofa County also condemned the company’s decision.

In late July, Firestone expressed disappointment with the statements from the Liberian officials regarding its plans to reduce its workforce in Liberia due to severe business climate.

In a statement, Firestone which has been in Liberia since 1926, explained that it entered into the ongoing process and discussions with Liberia on a positive note but was surprised at the way things have turned out.

“We entered the process in good faith, and is disappointed in recent statements by some government officials alleging the company is not in compliance with the laws of Liberia and obligations under its Concession Agreement,” the company said. 

 “This is especially regrettable considering we are in the middle of a sensitive process to discuss the specifics of the issue with the appropriate parties under the law.

As confirmed by outside legal counsel, all actions taken by the company as part of the planned workforce reduction process have been fully compliant with the 2015 Decent Work Act, the company’s concession agreement, and all applicable laws and regulations of the Government of Liberia.”

Firestone said its primary focus and of the senior leadership of its parent company, Bridgestone Americas was to urgently find meaningful ways to make our business in Liberia sustainable. “The actions being taken are intended to allow Firestone Liberia to remain a core investor in the country. As always, Firestone Liberia remains a committed partner of the people and government of Liberia, with the shared goal of the preservation and enhancement of the country’s natural rubber industry.”