Liberia: Worker Union Accuses Firestone of Unlawful Dismissals, Bad Labor Practice
Margibi County – Two dismissed officials of the Firestone Agriculture Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), along with some current and past aggrieved workers have accused the management of unlawful dismissals and bad labor practices.
Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]
The Build Up
According to the axed Chairman of FAWUL, Abel F. Ngigie, he, along with the Union’s Grievance Chairman, Edwin Fallah were dismissed because of their refusal to abide by the company’s order to return to their normal work while running the affairs of the union; something he said is against the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the company and FAWUL.
Ngigie narrated that the build up to the conflict followed the FAWUL’s election of October 2018 which ushered in six officials including him as Chairman, Levi Sayway (Co- Chairman), Jacvo Kerkula (Secretatry), Edwin Fallah (Grievance Chairman), Ben Henries (Treasurer) and Mama Kolleh (Chaplain).
According to him, Article 31 of the CBA of (2015 to 2018) gives the Union leadership the authority to engage in full time Union activities and be paid by the company.
CBA Article 31: “The company agrees that six Union Executives: President, Vice President, Secretary General, Grievance Chairperson, Treasurer and Chaplain shall engage in full time Union activities and be paid by the company. The Union shall furnish the company with the names of these executives. In the event that any of these principal officers serving full time in Union activities loses his/her position in an election, the company shall provide a job within his/her grade and capability.”
He furthered that because two of them refused to give into the management’s order, they were dismissed, while the rest of the four officials remain on their job because they gave in.
He said despite the intervention of the Ministry of Labor and the Agriculture Agro-Processing and Industrial workers Union (AAIWUL), management has refused to reinstate them.
“Because we want to set the precedent and stand up for the rights of the workers, the company plotted against us. but we will stand up for our rights and ensure that the right thing is done,” he vowed.
However, the Management of Firestone has denied the claims and asserted that despite the company’s effort in finding an amicable solution to the situation, the two Union officials refused to cooperate.
In its response, the Firestone said: “With regard to the recent dismissal of Mr. Abel F. Ngigie and Edwin Fallah, we confirm that Firestone Liberia is operating fully within the laws of Liberia, including the country’s Decent Work Act with regard to this situation. Additionally, Firestone Liberia has followed all established company policies and procedures which, we are confident, are based on best operating practices. Despite the company’s significant efforts to find an acceptable solution to the situation where these two employees refused to show up for work, an agreement could not be found, and the employees were ultimately terminated, per company policy, for abandoning their jobs.”
Meanwhile, documents in the possession of FrontPage Africa revealed that the Ministry of Labor and AAIWUL has condemned the management’s decision and called for the reinstatement of the two FAWUL officials.
In a communication to Firestone Liberia’s General Manager, Todd Knopp, dated October 25, 2018 under the signature of the Deputy Labor Minister for Planning and Manpower Development Atty. Phil Tarpeh Dixon (serving as Acting Minister at that time), he told the management that the “workers union’s request for their six leaders to be paid while performing full time Union duties was consistent with the CBA and as such, said request should be granted”.
Additionally, the Director of Communications at the Ministry of Labor, J. Kortu Nyandibo has confirmed to FPA that the plight of the dismissed Union leaders is of great concern to Labor Minister Moses Y. Kollie and as such, all is being done to have them reinstated.
He said the negotiation was ongoing but was halted because of the Christmas break; adding that with the resumption of active work, negotiation will kick off in the coming days.
In a related development, another dismissed employee, Tarnue Kardee has alleged that he was unlawfully sacked because of a non-persistent child support case brought against him by his ex-lover who is also his child’s mother; claiming that he was never investigated by management.
“I worked for Firestone for 12 years and no one gave me a warning letter. But just because someone came and levied a false allegation against me and without investigating the case, they (management) decided to sack me,” Kardee explained.
In response to Kardee’s claims, Firestone maintained that it is“meticulous in following established and best practice employment law systems and processes; adding “Mr. Kardee has filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour regarding his termination and the company is cooperating fully with the investigation. At this time, we cannot comment further regarding an ongoing investigation.”
In a letter of dismissal signed by Firestone’s Human Resources Manager, Marion N. Wreh and dated May 26, 2017, a copy of which is in the possession of this entity, management informed Kardee that it was terminating his services effective June 1, 2017 on the charge of “gross insubordination.”
Excerpt: “On May 11, 2017, you were invited by the special Branch of the Plant Protection Department for investigation into an allegation levied against you by Madam Esther Richards (Kardee’s ex-lover). As a security officer of PPD, you refused to write a statement with respect to the issue that was abide, neither to be photographed. Instead you became very rude and aggressive and then walk out of the office without permission from your bosses in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) Article #22, Count (J) Gross insubordination.”
It can be recalled that a group of current and past aggrieved employees of the Plant Protection Department (PPD) accused the management of doing all within its powers to deny them justice into a US$1.6 million case involving them and the company.
The case (Otoso Cole et al vs management of Firestone) is currently at the Supreme Court of Liberia, where it has been on the docket for more than two years.
According to the PPD workers, the legal wrangling between them and Firestone has been ongoing for almost a decade now, and despite the lower court’s ruling in their favor, the company continues to use it financial influence to deny them justice.
The workers told FPA in October 2018 that following a ruling by the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Margibi County over allegations of bad labor practice, in which the court ordered the company to pay the workers close to US$1.6 million, the company took an appeal to the Supreme Court, but it has since been working behind the scene working covertly to delay the proceedings.
They alleged that instead of management abiding by court’s order to pay the sum of about US$1.6 million owed them, management colluded with their (former PPD) lawyer in forging their signatures to proof that they agree to lesser payment.
However, Firestone denied the allegations and stated that the payment was done legally.
“The Supreme Court of Liberia – the highest court in the land – signed off on Firestone Liberia’s agreement with a group of aggrieved workers back in 2010, clearly acknowledging that the workers had been ably represented and were fully aware of the terms and conditions of the Agreement. Firestone Liberia has fully complied with the terms and conditions, as agreed to by the aggrieved workers and the company and made all payments to the aggrieved workers accordingly.”