The Labor Court of Liberia, over the weekend, ordered an immediate end to what is now becoming a week of a strike by the worker union of Liberia only continued post-war foreign direct investment- ArcelorMittal Liberia.
The decision by the court came as employees in the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 10, 2023, in Yekepa and Buchanan engaged in industrial action, stalling the company’s production and operations in both locations, posing a risk to our employees.
In fact, at Yekepa, the employees deliberately seized vehicles, drove heavy-duty machines through residential areas, and took to themselves other properties of the company in further contempt of a May 14, 2023, directive from the Ministry of Labor which also called for an immediate end to the strike.
Despite several attempts by the company for a return to work to be followed by dialogue, the workers union of ArcelorMittal is still hesitant, rejecting all possible means to negotiate.
But as union members continue their strike, one would have thought that by now, the government would make a strong statement urging the workers to abide by the order of the Labor Court as the only legal authority responsible to make determinations into labor issues that come before the judiciary.
To date, the Ministry of Information is yet to issue a single statement on the embarrassing situation at the concession, least to mention the fact that none of the Legislative Caucuses in the three counties hosting ArcelorMittal.
The government at its highest level cannot be pretentious about the blatant refusal of unions to negotiate.
This is inconsistent with the processes laid out within the decent work law of Liberia, whereas from the beginning of the strike, “members of the Union forcibly and without authorization confiscated and removed large earthmoving machines (Automated Dump Trucks) from the AML Mines and relocated them to the Township of Yekepa”.
Of course, many union leaders around the world today have never gone to the table without forcing a demand for wage increments.
Since ArcelorMittal modern era of concessions began in Liberia, we’ve seen two decades of “give-in”, punctuated with gains here and there that benefits the workers not to mention the dozens of community development initiatives.
Employers’ demands for wage increments and flexible work rules just make common sense everywhere, but when a union takes the law into its hands, the responsibility falls on the government to ensure that the law becomes the law.
While it is the right of every group of people to express themselves freely and democratically through protest, it must be noted that the manner and form in which the AML workers union has handled this strike is dangerous and could escalate further if care is not taken.
We are urging the government as reported earlier that the ongoing illegal strike by the workers, not only projects a negative image of the business environment in Liberia and scares away foreign investors but raises questions about the Government’s professed commitment to creating a favorable business environment and ensuring the protection of the interest and assets of investors, especially given the absolute disrespect of constituted authorities by the AML workers’ union.
The company has said it is aware of the concerns expressed by the employees and is willing to listen and negotiate.
In a county with absolutely poor economic activities exacerbated by the global headwinds from the war on Ukraine, high global inflation, and depressed demand for goods and services, we cannot make-believe like all is well and ignore ArcelorMittal’s contributions to the government’s budget.
In 2022 alone, we understand how thirty-nine mining companies reported a total of US$45,243,496 in tax revenues across four agencies of government that according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Report
Of the total amount collected in tax revenues from the mining sector, 4 companies (Arcelor Mittal, Bea Mountain, MNG Goal, and Hummingbird Resources) accounted for US$41,726,305 or 92.2% of total sector revenues.
In his $46.7 million, it is further noted that ArcelorMittal alone contributed a whopping $30,350,460 to the Liberia Revenue Authority and an additional $661, 361, totaling 30,966,820.00
This amount paid by AML accounts for 47% of the total revenue contributed by the extractive sector for which mining alone reported 68 distinct revenue streams for FY 2019/2020.
This strike at AML facilities will lessen production, as well as result in the company losing and not meeting its planned targets, and employees may lose their remuneration.
It could affect the government’s income generation capacity in an election year lest we forget how crucial ArcelorMittal’s royalties, taxes, and contributions are to our socio-economic recovery process.