Liberia: AML Workers Ignore Labor Ministry’s Advice with Threats Against Management

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AML WORKERS’ THREAT

Despite consistent yet futile engagements and follow-ups with the workers’ association on reaching a mutual resolution on the issue of salary increment, the association has resulted to the issuance of threats of protest the advice of the Ministry of Labor and without exhausting all available legal mechanisms under the labor laws of Liberia.

Yekepa, Nimba County – The 15th of March 2022, witnessed celebrations, smiles, and firm handshakes in the mining town of Yekepa, Nimba County, as a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) covering three years was signed between the management of ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) and its workforce, represented by the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL).  This paper has gathered that during the negotiations which were overseen by the Ministry of Labor, where two outstanding issues around the Union’s demand for salary increment and job restructuring were put aside for further discussions between the workers and the company, having been determined by the Labor Ministry that those issues could not prevent the signing of the document.


By: FPA STAFF REPORTER


Signed under the watchful eyes of the Ministry of Labor, AML and its workforce representative hailed the CBA is an excellent document born out of more than 6 months of intense bargaining.

UWUL’s Secretary-General, Dave J. Seneh at the time, expressed delight that the CBA brought more improvement in benefits for the workforce and would also provide additional opportunities for short-term employees in the years to come.

The head of Human Resources, Rose B. Kingston (who is reported to have chaired the negotiations), described the shouts and ferocious arguments on both sides during the negotiations but opined that they were in goodnight faith, and the signing of the agreement was a big win for both sides noting that “Collective bargaining is about dialogue; it is about finding solutions to real problems in the workplace-problems that affect workers and constraints in meeting targets.”

Now it appears that the workers union and their employers may be headed for rocky times. 

A few days ago, unnamed sources in the local Union leaked to the media two letters written to the Ministry of Labor and the ArcelorMittal management complaining of salary disparities and threatening a strike.  In fact, the Union outrightly asked the Ministry for permission, stating: “We want to guide ourselves under Section 41.1 and 41.3 of the Decent Work Act of 2015, to request the Ministry of Labour for workers to strike at ArcelorMittal Liberia on December 3, 2022, at 0600GMT at all AML worksites respectively.”

Members of the ArcelorMittal Liberia workers’ association during their take their oath of office.

Sources close to the Minister of Labor’s office told this paper that Minister Charles Gibson determined that the Union had not met all the terms and conditions of the Decent Work Act (DWA), and therefore must return to continue negotiating instead of reverting to a strike.

Chapter 41 of the Decent Work Act explains the procedures for strikes or go-slows and the accompanying penalties if a group or an employee fails to follow those procedures. 

In summary, Chapter 14 states that while all parties to a dispute of interest have the right to strike, the dispute must have first been officially referred to the Ministry of Labor; the party seeking to strike must have attended the conciliation meetings convened by the Ministry, and if the dispute remains unresolved a period of 30 days after the referral, the party must file a 48-hr notice to the Ministry and other parties to the dispute of the commencement of the strike, including its conformity with agreed rules regulating its conduct. 

In the case of the ArcelorMittal Liberia workers’ association, this paper has gathered that the full regulations laid down in the Decent Work Act have not been exhausted by the workers, and an attempt to hold an illegal strike could trigger serious administrative actions from the management in keeping with the law.

Sources close to the discussions between the Union and the AML management (who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the issue) told this paper that the Union is uncompromisingly demanding a salary increment, while management insists that salary increments is a management prerogative and will be given to all employees depending on production, financial performance, and market conditions. Since returning to negotiations, it is reported that many of the issues around grading and job restructuring issue have been resolved, while management has also presented a proposal for salary increments consistent with ArcelorMittal’s policy and business productivity. The proposal includes a standard rate for increment that cuts across all workers.

According to our investigation, despite consistent yet futile engagements and follow-ups with the workers’ association on reaching a mutual resolution on the issue of salary increment, the association has resulted to the issuance of threats of protest the advice of the Ministry of Labor and without exhausting all available legal mechanisms under the labor laws of Liberia.

A member of the local workers’ union who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, said he does not believe that a protest by the association was the right approach to resolving the issue and warned that such action could have severe administrative consequences.

AML CEO, Joep Conen (right) and UWUL Secretary General Dave Seneh Signing the CBA

He believes that the move by the leaders of the association is only intended to present themselves as working in the interest of the workforce because their tenure has almost ended, and the election is due in about a month for a new leadership. 

Sources close to the Ministry of Labor have informed this paper that the Minister of Labor Charles Gibson has strongly warned the workers’ association against any strike action as it is illegal because the right procedures have not been followed and exhausted.

If the workers proceed with the strike, it could be considered an affront to the authority of the Ministry of Labor which oversees the sector and has been engaging with ArcelorMittal Liberia to explore opportunities to create more jobs for Liberians and improve the overall situation of their workforce.

ArcelorMittal Liberia announced recently that the company is investing over USD $ 1billion dollars into Liberia under its Phase Two expansion project which will create up to 3,000 new jobs, especially during the construction phase of a mega iron ore processing concentrator.

The Phase Two expansion project will significantly ramp up the production of premium iron ore with wider economic benefits for Liberia.

The expansion project which encompasses processing, rail, and port facilities will be one of the largest mining projects in West Africa and will make Liberia a major iron ore mining jurisdiction globally.

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