The management of Firestone-Liberia Incorporated has condemned recent strike actions by aggrieved workers following the company’s failure to increase their monthly take-home pay.
According to a press release issued on August 11, the Firestone Management described the workers’ action as “misconduct of employees.”
According to the release, the management of Firestone Liberia, Incorporated condemned recent work stoppages, and “unlawful conduct,” including the destruction of rubber trees by a number of workers at its concession.
On August 9, the day of the workers’ protest, the Firestone management, representatives of the aggrieved workers, as well as representatives of the Ministries of Labor and Justice held a brief meeting at the Labor Ministry, where a Firestone representative promised to work with the committee set up to probe the workers’ complaints.
In its August 11 statement, the Firestone management said it is also seeking more deliberate support from the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), as well as ministries and departments of the Government of Liberia (GoL) to quickly and peacefully resolve the recent misunderstandings that resulted in unrest, and physical damage to its operation.
“At Firestone, the safety and well-being of our employees is a top priority. We condemn acts and threats of violence, intimidation and disruptive conduct on company premises,” the release quotes Ed Garcia, president and managing director of Firestone Liberia.
“For more than 90 years, Firestone has been a vital part of Liberia, and we stand committed and willing to engage in an open and productive dialogue to listen to our workers, but always within the framework of our collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and in keeping with all applicable laws of Liberia. Nothing has come to our attention that indicates we are in violation of the CBA; if there is any concern, employees should follow the established and agreed upon grievance process,” the release said.
According to the release, all work performed by Firestone Liberia tappers is done through an agreement with the leadership of FAWUL, the freely elected union representatives of Firestone workers. Firestone Liberia says it has provided extensive clarification regarding worker pay to company employees, FAWUL representatives and the GoL, including the Ministry of Labor and members of the House of Representatives.
FAWUL, however has yet to make a public statement on the matter.
Firestone, along with government officials and officers of the Liberian National Police (LNP), is, therefore, encouraging all employees to immediately resume normal operations to prevent long-term implications for the Firestone Liberia operation, other local businesses and Liberia’s continued economic recovery.
Wages at Firestone Liberia are negotiated directly with the FAWUL, and in alignment with the Decent Work Act and all applicable laws of Liberia, Firestone maintains.
In addition to the work stoppage by rubber tappers, strikers blocked public roads that run through the Firestone concession area cutting off vital transport routes for the country, including critical medical and emergency services aid.
Strikers also destroyed company property, including structures and rubber trees, the company said in its statement, adding that the disruptive actions of certain workers appear to stem from a misunderstanding about the daily average wages of tappers at Firestone Liberia.
The correct minimum base wage of a tapper at Firestone Liberia is US$5.50 cents per day. This is only the base wage and does not include additional financial incentive opportunities as part of their job and in keeping with the CBA with FAWUL.
However, the aggrieved workers in their position statement demand that “US$8.36 to US$12.50 reflect on [their] pay statement as base pay plus any other earnings.”
Firestone maintains: “We respect our workers’ right to voice their opinion, but an illegal walkout, personal misconduct, and destruction of company’s property is the wrong approach, dangerous and threatens the viability of our almost century-long relationship with Liberia. Walkouts have consequences and do nothing, but hurt workers, their families, and the Liberian economy, and cause long-term damage to relationships between industry and workers’ groups,” Garcia said in the release.
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the aggrieved workers Luogon G. Polay in a telephone conversation told the Daily Observer that at no time the group carry out any form of misconduct as claimed by the Firestone management in its release. “We are resolved and will not be moved by the release issued. Our position is very clear: our plight must be addressed. We look forward to the outcome of the 7-man committee set up to resolve the impasse,” he stated.
Polay said the aggrieved workers will meet today, August 13, to discuss and deliberate on the statement issued by Firestone management.