Monrovia – The House of Representatives on Thursday, June 28 summoned the management of Bridge Firestone, formerly Firestone Rubber Company to answer to charges of bad labor practice brought against it by the House’s Joint Committee on Agriculture and Labor.
Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]
Speaking before plenary, the Managing Director of Firestone, Edmundo Garcia said although he had not read the Joint Committee’s report and findings, his company respects the labor laws of Liberia and will do all to live by the concession agreement.
He pleaded with the lawmakers to allow the company’s management team to review the report and appropriately address the issues raised by the Committee.
“We at Firestone are very cognizant of the labor laws of Liberia. And we try every best we can to follow those laws of Liberia. We will certainly look at the issues and appropriately address each one of them. There are many things that are said about what we do at Firestone, but there are a lot of things that are done right at Firestone. Some of these things that are brought up are misunderstanding and I think we need to iron them out,” Garcia averred.
With this statement, the lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of Rep. Dixon Seibo’s motion to give the management two weeks to review the report and respond appropriately to all the issues raised.
However, in what appeared to be a cross-examination exercise, House Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers ordered the Firestone’s Manager to promptly respond to the array of questions and concerns proffered by his colleagues including Reps. Prince O. S. Tokpah (Chairman on Agriculture), Crayton Duncan (Chairman on Labor), Edward Karfia (Bong County), Tibelrosa S. Tarponweh (Margibi Dist.#1), Ivar K. Jones (Margibi Dist.#2) and Ellen Attoh ( Margibi Dist.#3).
What is in the report?
In the report, the Joint Committee said after a careful research and investigation which included visitations at the plantation and meetings with both management and employees, they gathered that Firestone is into bad labor practice and not doing enough to improve the welfare of its employees.
Chief among the Joint Committee’s allegations include the company’s violation of the Decent Work Act by underpaying its workers, despite making them to work for long hours outside of the legally accepted working hours under the labor laws of Liberia, and the company failed to provide good housing facilities with electricity for its employees.
The Committee claimed that tappers are assigned to 750 trees (equivalent to a tile) according to the contract, but they tap up to 1,500 which is a double shift a day and cannot be paid for overtime.
In addition, the Committee noted that there has been a constant deduction of US$5.00 by a contracted security firm from her workers when he or she loses a day, “thereby contravening mathematical analysis of the US$85.00 which has been paid as a monthly take home for 26 working days (US$3.26 per day).”
The committee added that Bridge Firestone’s tappers and other employees work for seven days a week, (sometimes from 5:30 am to 7 pm).
It accused the company of not giving full employment status to workers who have worked on a contract basis for more than five years, thereby violating the Decent Work Act which calls for contractor(s) who have worked for at least six months to be given the right to full employment if they so desired.
They further alleged that the company is involved in the production and of sale of furniture made from rubberwood as wells as cultivating other cash crops such as coffee and cocoa, something they believe is outside of the concession agreement.
Firestone management’s response
In response to some of the allegations, Firestone’s Managing Director, Edmundo Garcia indicated that as far as the veracity of the report is concerned, there are matters that needed clarification and others that are inaccurate.
He said the company pays it workers justly in line with the minimum wage bill; adding that any extra work done by its employees are paid for.
He told the lawmakers that apart from benefits such as rice, tappers earn US$8.00 per day, while highest earning tapers get US$12.82 per day; equating to about US$4000.00 yearly.
Citing the Collecting Bargaining agreement, Garcia pointed out that tappers do not tap 750 trees per day, instead of 548 or 648; adding that the number decreases as the trees get older.
He mentioned that the company is providing safe drinking water to all of its employees but admitted that management was unable to supply electricity to all because of limited capacity.
So, with the total power output of 4megawatts, the electricity is concentrated to strategic areas including factories and the hospital.
The Firestone boss also acknowledged that the company is in the production and sale of rubberwood furniture, but it is intended to erase the bad image that rubberwood has in Liberia and encourage Liberians to get involved in the trade.
According to him, the venture is in line with the renegotiated concession agreement with the previous administration.
He also admitted to the planting of coffee and cocoa in between rubber trees on the plantation, but clarified that it is in line with discussions held with the previous government that there was a need for crop diversification as enshrined in the amended concession agreement.
The appearance of the Firestone’s management before the Plenary House of Representatives is the second time in two months for a major concession to appear before the Legislature answer to charges of bad labor practice.
It can be recalled that a Special Legislative Investigative Committee on Operations of Sime Darby Plantation in Liberia has accused the company of bridging the 2009 concession agreement it signed with the government of Liberia.