Liberia: Labour Minister Abolishes Construction of Container Residences for Workers



— “Our people need decent accommodations at concession companies,” he said.

Labor Minister Cllr. Charles H. Gibson has called on mining companies operating in Liberia including Arcelormittal to immediately abolish the construction of container residences for workers.

Gibson said the Ministry of Labour is concerned about the well-being of workers but, beyond safety, their accommodations are something of interest to the Ministry.

Accommodations for workers of concessionaires in the country have been a serious issue as most people are housed in makeshift structures at various camps. There was an uproar in 2016 when ArcelorMittal imported and constructed makeshift and prefabricated containers as living homes of junior and senior staffers of the concession. This was in violation of the Mineral Development Agreement that called for the renovation of the permanent living quarters and houses that were constructed and later abandoned by the American-Swedish company, LAMCO.

But according to Gibson, the government would like to see workers living in good and permanent structures that will be inherited by the community after the ore is gone and as such, the use of containers as dwelling homes must be discouraged.

Gibson indicated that the Ministry of Labour will begin to consider setting benchmarks that restrict the use of containers in these concession areas.

He threatened to start revoking the work permits of top managers who have come to grab and go, leaving nothing for Liberians.

Gibson made the assertion on Thursday, January 19, when he led a delegation from the Ministry of Labour to Western Cluster Mining Company to investigate reports of Labour violation emanating from the company.

During a meeting with the Management team and heads of sub-contracting companies, Gibson lamented that the Ministry of Labour has heard a lot about Western Cluster operations but has decided not to get involved with the politics or what has been heard on the radio and other media institutions.

He, however, noted that there is an indication of something going wrong at the company. 

Speaking further, Gibson said, “If you go to Bea Mountain and ArcelorMittal, you will see container residences for workers. You come to Western Cluster, you also see container residences but, in Firestone, the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) GVL, and other agriculture companies you see concrete buildings.”

According to Gibson, this action on the part of mining companies shows that they are just here to grab and go and leave the holes which cannot be used for any other purpose, which he described as a form of exploitation because the local people inherit nothing.

“For example, look at Bomi where you get the palm oil company, see the new outlook of houses that were left there by one company and another group of companies took over, but who is going to take over containers? As such, we must ensure that this thing must stop.”

Gibson informed the investors that Liberians are not stupid, in that those who are here to stay are known and those who have come to visit are also known. 

He maintained that what is happening in most of the mining companies appears to be that they are here to visit, and if they are here to visit, the government will ensure that after their visitation something is left for the people because they are taking something with them that can never be replenished.

On the issue of non-Liberians working with the company, Gibson told the Management of Western Cluster and its sub-contracting companies that the Ministry's attention has been drawn to reports about many foreigners working at the company that are doing jobs Liberians are qualified, competent, and available to do.

Also, the company has majority of its foreign workers working without valid work permits issued by the Ministry of Labour allegations that were confirmed to be factual and, therefore, 37 alien workers of the company were enrolled into the digitized alien work permit database of the Ministry in the presence of the Minister, with many others to follow.  

He spoke highly of the unionization of workers at the company. “We want to know whether these company workers are Unionized because workers must be protected through the representation of a union." 

Gibson later toured the facilities and held separate discussions with workers of various sections of the company as a means of understanding their safety, living, and working conditions.

Welcoming the Labour Minister and delegation, Western Cluster-Liberia Head, Chetan Savant said that his company signed an agreement with the Government of Liberia in 2011 and has done exploration of all three concession areas Bomi, Bea Mountain, and Mano River. 

The agreement signed was not functional for 11 years due to the Ebola and Coronavirus outbreaks and additional years to observe the environment.  He said that the company has invested not less than 3 million in the country without exporting, but has constructed two bridges and paid all taxes as well.

Speaking of challenges, the WCL Head named limited manpower, machinery availability, the long rainy season, and Liberia being a developing Country, it will take a long time to get concrete structures down. 

He also spoke of the difficulties in the transportation of ore in the absence of rail as well as the shipment from the port being a major challenge facing the company’s operations.

He assured the Minister of WCL's preparedness to remain peaceful and committed to adhering to the laws of Liberia, including all Labour regulations.