MONROVIA – The Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Minister of Labor, Counselor Charles H. Gibson has held the management of Arcelor Mittal Liberia (AML) liable for huge disparity in the salaries of employees at the entity just to benefit and protect senior executives’ relatives and friends in the employ of the company.
The government also mandated the company to increase the salaries of its employees by 5% due to its good business standing as evidenced by AML huge investment in social development, sports, and other projects nationwide.
The government’s action stemmed from a probe launch into delays being caused in the implementation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed between the company and its workers sometimes ago.
It can be recalled that in 2021, the management of AML and its Unionized Workers commenced a scheduled CBA which became tedious and prolonged as a result of stalemates on key issues including salary disparity, position/job title branding or grading structures, and salary increment.
As a result of the disagreement between the workers and the management, a social dialogue between both parties was commenced under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor.
During the dialogue, it was agreed upon that the CBA should be signed on the issues that were not in contention. The parties were also directed by the ministry to continue the discussion on the unresolved issues and return to the Ministry of Labor within three months with their findings.
Both parties were notified that should they failed to mutually overcome the stalemates within the 90-day period, as of the date the current CBA was signed (on August 1, 2021), the Ministry of Labor would have no alternative but to make a determination to which all parties would be binding, consistent with the Labor Law and practices of Liberia.
Following the death of the Assistant Minister for Trade Union Affairs at the ministry Zeo Manseh, who presided over the case and the absence of his replacement prompted delays in the resolution of the outstanding issues between the management and the workers.
In December 2022, Minister Gibson led a high power delegation to Yekepa, Nimba County on a two-day visit to AML. During discussions with the management, workers’ representatives and their mother union UWUL, the three unresolved issues were high on the agenda.
The Assistant Minister of Standards at the Ministry of Labour Madam Welma Sampson (who just resigned her post to contest for the Representative seat in district # 17), was mandated to take charge of the matter.
After the holding of several meetings at the ministry offices in Monrovia and AML in Buchanan, a breakthrough was later achieved defining and narrowing the issues of contentions and recommendations made.
Based upon these recommendations, the Minister of Labor convened separate meetings in Monrovia with the leadership of the orkers’ association and the mother union (UWUL) and the CEO and Senior Staff of AML.
Releasing the findings and ruling into the matter at the Ministry’s offices in Congo town, outside Monrovia on Tuesday, April 11, Minister Gibson disclosed that the management of Arcelor Mittal alluded to claims of salary disparity raised by the workers.
“Regarding an allegation of salary disparity, the management acknowledged its existence as claimed by the workers, but informed us that the said disparity was inadvertently obtained through prolonged delays to conduct a personnel audit of the Human Resource system at Arcelor Mittal Liberia.”
He disclosed that the company’s management claimed that vigorous work has been done, with inputs from the workers’ representatives, to significantly reverse the salary disparity, and that said work would continue until the entire AML payroll system is void of any form of disparity and discrimination.
However, he added that, the workers while acknowledging some level of ongoing collaboration with management to correct the disparity maintained that meaningful achievement was far from being achieved.
Minister Gibson pointed out that the workers accused some senior staff of AML of “undue interference by unilaterally and intentionally fueling the salary disparity to benefit and protect their relatives and friends in the employ of AML.”
On the issue of inconsistency in banding or grading structure for various categories of positions, Minister Gibson stated that the management also acknowledged to the problem, but indicated that it was done in good faith to provide improved salaries and incentives to multi-skilled employees.
He added that by doing so, the management maintained that it was intended encourage workers to opt for continuous skill development.
According to him, the management assured the ministry that significant work is being done to correct the unanticipated effect of the policy to bring it into compliance with Labor Law and Regulations without discouraging capacity building.
In his ruling, Minister Gibson recalled that on the issues of salary disparity and job grading structure, the National Legislature and the President signed into law the ILO Convention #100 which provides for “Equal work for Equal Pay” in June 2021.
He emphasized that this instrument was subsequently deposited with Geneva by the Ministry of Labor and Liberia’s Ambassador in Swaziland in June 2022.
Additionally, he added that, the Labor Law, Law Regulations and Practices of Liberia are depicted with precedents and prohibitions against discrimination and salary disparity in the work place, and the Ministry of Labor is under statutory obligation to ensure that all employers in Liberia are in full compliance.
“Accordingly, it is the holding of the Ministry of Labor that multiplicity of skills is not and should not be the measurement by which workers are paid, but by the specific skill being performed for which he or she was hired. To do otherwise constitute breach of the Labor Law of Liberia and International Best Practices as enshrined in ILO Convention # 100.”
“The Ministry of Labor, however, acknowledges the need for grading of up to three to four steps in each category of work to account for roles, responsibilities, skills, experience, efficiency, dedication, capacity building and other factors. Said grading with regards to which step, persons doing the same job should be placed into, falls within the sound discretion of the Supervisor and/or HR office of the entity.”
Minister Gibson emphasized that the salary difference or gap between the steps within each category of work should not be alarming as to suggest to the reasonable mind that the salary disparity or abuse discretion is obtaining.
He pointed out that the ministry will not levy any fine on the company because, the management of AML has already conceded, and has shown no bad faith as actions are being taken to correct the wrong.
Minister Gibson pointed out that there is nothing in the Labor Law of Liberia that makes it a violation when a company or entity claims that it is financially unable to increase workers monthly salary at a given time.
However, he added that, non-payment of salary or arbitrary decrease of salary is squarely labor violations.
He noted that through good faith negotiation, based on improved or promising financial upturn to an entity, it is not unreasonable that workers should opt for negotiation for salary increment.
Minister Gibson said the ministry encourages and is supportive of such negotiations and would expect all parties to be reasonable and exercise good faith when doing so.
Increase salary by 5%
Speaking further, Minister Gibson recalled that in the 2018-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed between AML management and its workers, a 14.5 percent salary increment was agreed upon and executed.
He maintained that prior to the signing and implementation of the CBA; the previous CBA of 2012-2013 also carried an increment of 12.5%.
He disclosed that though the current CBA had salary increment on its agenda, it has been tabled because the company’s management intends to unilaterally determine the percentage of increment and has failed to come up with an offer up to present.
“Precedent having been set and cannot be departed arbitrarily, this Ministry hereby states that the AML workers’ request during the negotiation of the current CBA was not unreasonable. It is therefore the ruling of this Ministry that the Management of AML lives up to precedent and increase its union workers salaries by no more than five percent.”
He, however, encouraged the management to exercise transparency and good faith in working with workers’ representatives under the joint supervision of the Trade Union Affairs and the Labor Standards Division at the ministry to ensure full compliance with the ruling not later than 90 days from now.
Exception to ruling
Meanwhile, the management of Arcelor Mittal Liberia has taken exception to the ruling from the Ministry on the CBA signed with its workers’ union in 2022.
In a brief statement issued shortly after the release of the ruling under the signature of its Communication Manager Winston P. Daryoue, the company pointed out that it reserves the right to take full advantage of the recourse available under the law.
“Since 2022, ArcelorMittal Liberia has made significant improvements regarding the benefits of its workers and is a market leader in Liberia on the benefits package it offers its staff. From the time of signing of the CBA, ArcelorMittal Liberia has approved benefit increments totaling more than US$5.5 million dollars covering: housing, school fees, shift and travel allowances, making staff who work for ArcelorMittal Liberia, one of the highest paid in the country.”
The company, however, pledged to continue to engage with its workers’ union to find a resolution and reach a mutually beneficial agreement.