An investigation by the Ministry of Labour has found steel giant ArcelorMittal guilty of unfair labor practice and the Ministry has therefore ordered the company to pay US$308,000 as compensation to the affected employees.
The Ministry then demanded the management of ArcelorMittal-Liberia to commence the disbursement of the said amount directly to the affected workers beginning September 23, 2021, which constitutes the total and final settlement for unfair labor practices meted against them by the company.
For the ministry, the action of AML to turn over the affected contractors to an employees agency despite having been in its employ for more than two years without benefits was a violation of the country’s labor law.
“The law governing during the time of engagement requires that the maximum period of service that may be stipulated in any contract of employment in writing shall be two years for a contract to be fulfilled and the maximum period of service for re-employment contract in writing shall be 18 months. There is no dispute as to whether the aggrieved contractors have spent more than 36 months at work,” Labour Minister Cllr. Charles Gibson said.
The complaint against AML began in October of 2020 when former contractors of the company submitted a complaint to the Ministry for its intervention into what they alleged as ‘unfair labor’ practices which they claim are being meted against them by the company and its management.
During the investigation, the workers submitted that there were 546 contractors who were hired by AML at different points in time ranging between four to seven years to work in various departments at two different AML sites, Buchanan and Yekepa.
They said that they were employed as contractors, but later turned over by AML to employment Agency firms; Frontline and ROSNA, who later laid them off after two years of service in their respective positions at various AML facilities in Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties. They also claimed that AML failed in its promise to have them reemployed when business improved.
The former workers submitted that these acts by AML amounted to unfair labor practices. They also produced some I.D. Cards, Access passes, and Social Security ID Cards allegedly issued to them by AML to substantiate their claims of being former workers of AML.
But AML in its defense asserted that its action to transfer the workers’ status from directly under AML to employment Agencies was not illegal. AML claimed that the aggrieved former workers were casual workers and as such, they were not entitled to employment benefits.
They noted that the issuance of Access Pass to workers was to allow them to gain access to AML sites. However, in the mind of contractors, they were contractors of AML, not Frontline/ROSNA because they had never applied for a job with Frontline/ROSNA.
But Ministry of Labour, in its ruling, sided with AML’s former workers that some of them were duly issued access pass and hired at different points in time and that AML introduced Frontline/ROSNA in 2013 to the contractors after most of them had already worked for more than three years as contractors on AML sites.
The ruling added that many of the contractors/ aggrieved former workers were laid off at various times by Frontline/ROSNA while others were made redundant by AML, and in 2017 AML carried on new employment without considering the layoff workers.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labour has also ordered to complete the payment of the US$308,000 before October 1, 2021, and that the leadership of the former workers is given US$15,000 to cover its overhead during the prolonged struggle for workers’ rights, despite not being a registered workers Union.
Those expected to benefit according to the Ministry reside in Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties where AML has its operations.
Min. Gibson added, “That the leadership of the aggrieved former workers shall make itself available to be present during the disbursement period. That the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Justice, and the Bureau of Concession will provide compliance monitoring to the process.”
The ruling also comes after ArcelorMittal had signed an agreement with the George Weah administration as part of the amendment or revisit of its 25-year Mineral Agreement with Liberia, where it will at least triple its iron ore production and invest an additional $800 million.
According to the agreement, annual ore production is expected to increase to 15 million tonnes during the first phase of expansion and could rise as high as 30 million tonnes.
The steel and mining company first signed a 25-year deal with Liberia in 2005 and shipped the first iron ore from its Yekepa mine in 2011. It had been aiming at expanding output to 15 million tonnes much sooner, but those plans were put on hold in 2014 when it declared force majeure on the expansion project because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
At the signing ceremony, President Weah said the government would receive a total of $65 million from ArcelorMittal in revenue.