Dozens of redundant workers of ArcelorMittal Liberia have seized the railroad in Sanniquellie, halting the movement of trains in protest of their status, since their redundancy in 2014 due to the Ebola virus epidemic.
According to the spokesperson of the aggrieved redundant workers, Kingston Ylanbor, they have waited with patience for a long time without getting any redress from the management of AML, and they will ensure that movement of locomotives will cease until their problems are addressed.
Mr. Ylanbor said the protest will be peaceful, but if anyone provokes them, they will go on the rampage and destroyed anything they lay hands on.
“We have applied all the persuasive methods to get our status with the company after it redundant us in 2015 or give us our benefits if it does need our services anymore, but it has refused to meet any of these conditions,” said Emmanuel Weah, Secretary of the aggrieved workers.
The workers who served Mittal in various capacities saw themselves retired in 2015 due to the Ebola virus that hit the country coupled with Mittal’s own financial crisis that resulted from the fallen price of iron ore. Under the Decent Work Act of Liberia, redundant workers under such a condition are to be reemployed when the condition for which they were redundant improves, and investigation conducted by an inter-ministerial committee comprising the Ministries of Labor and Justice came out with a favorable result for the redundant workers to be reinstated.
“[ArcelorMittal] should be required to rehire all workers redundant, except those no longer willing to resume work or for whom different circumstances have made the same impossible,” the Labor Ministry recommended. “Workers not legally encumbered from working, but whom ArcelorMittal is unwilling to hire, will be deemed wrongfully dismissed and subject to payment of compensation.” The investigation report called for laid-off workers to be paid for up to 24 months if the company does not reinstate them.
The financial condition and the Ebola crisis for which the workers were laid off had since gone and the market has significantly improved. Market Insider, a business website that gives regular details of traded resources, as of Tuesday, August 18, gave the price of iron ore per tone as US$105.59, an amount far higher than the US$49.00 or $60.00 charged between 2015 and 2016.
The company has not reemployed the laid-off workers despite having hired many new employees, according to an investigation by the Ministry of Labor in January of this year. It said the subsidiary of the multinational steel giant, ArcelorMittal S.A., has hired more than 500 new workers since the 2015 and 2016 layoffs and has proposed to expand its operations to create a thousand more jobs.
The chief executive officer of ArcelorMittal, Scott Lowe, had earlier acknowledged the company’s obligation to the redundant workers but said it cannot do anything amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The company remains willing to resolve the matter in line with those discussions in due course,” Lowe tells the Daily Observer in an email interview. ArcelorMittal Liberia understands that the COVID-19 crisis facing Liberia, its people, and business has been given priority and there has been some delay in documenting the outcome.”
Nimba County electoral district #2 Representative, Prince O.S. Tokpah, told the Daily Observer on August 17 that though he was not in Nimba when the aggrieved redundant workers were planning to stage their protest, he was quite aware that the company owes them and has reneged on settling its obligation with them. “I am not there, but I know for sure that the company owes them and has not settled its obligation with them.”
The aggrieved redundant workers have had this plan long ago to disrupt activities of Mittal if it does not meet its obligation with them. In an interaction with the Daily Observer earlier, the men all sounding in furious tones reflecting an angry mood said they would take to the railroad to block the train from carrying iron ore, and if the government will come in, they are willing to die and the government should get ready to kill them. In the latest protest, they took with them a casket and laid on the railroad with some stumps to block the rail.
Arki Cisco told the Daily Observer that they will remain there until their plight is addressed, and if the government makes any attempt to harm them, there will be a reciprocal action from them and Mittal will be the victim. As the men were planning the protest that began on August 18, the Corporate Communication Manager of ArcelorMittal, Amanda Hills was contacted through an email, but she has not responded since she received the August 17 email.