The Plenary of the House of Representatives has unanimously voted to put a halt to Firestone’s decision to lay off 374 employees including the dismissal of 153 contractors, as well as the demotion (reshuffling) of 26 tappers to slashers (brushers), following the conclusion of its ongoing investigation into the company’s decision.
The Plenary’s decision was based on a motion by Representative Acarous Gray (District #8, Montserrado County), calling on the company to halt its action and any other actions.
Following series of amendments to Gray’s motion, Plenary called on the company to reappear in open session next Tuesday, July 21, with all sub-contractual agreements it has signed with other entities, along with its financial records for the past five years.
The management of Firestone, along with the Minister of Justice, Frank Musa Dean, and Labor Minister Moses Kollie had been invited by plenary to make some inputs about the company’s planned action.
Speaking in session, the General Manager of Firestone, Don Darden, said that the decision of the company was necessary to preserve its operation in Liberia.
Speaking also on the floor, Representative Tibelrosa Tarponweh of Margibi County District #1, who wrote the communication to invite the Firestone management, said the company has failed to live up to its promises. It can be recalled that Representative Tarponweh, who serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Investment and Concession, had earlier called for an intervention into the “worrisome situation.”
Several other lawmakers, including Representatives J. Fonati Koffa, Ellen Attoh, Ben Fofana, Clarence Massaquoi, Edward Karfiah and Ivar Jones, condemned the pronounced actions by the company.
Representative Tarponweh and the Committee, along with the Margibi County Legislative Caucus, had earlier met the company’s top managers last Monday, but it appeared that the parties failed to find a mitigating solution.
The company told the committee that it has contracted private firms to operate some of the estates and, as such, it was not in the position to employ and underwrite all of the estate workers’ benefits such as health and education.
Representative Tarponweh said the company exports all of its rubber products out of Liberia, and the only benefit that the country gets is the employment of its citizens.
House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, in anger, said that Firestone, a 100 years old friend to Liberia, is not reciprocating the goodness the country has done but is instead paying back by “kneeling on Liberia’s neck.”
He said through Liberia, Firestone became the second-largest rubber producing company, with nothing to show for producing in Liberia.
Expressing his irritation, the Speaker said not even a “condom” has been produced in Liberia.
Earlier, authorities of the Ministry of Labour have said it will not provide Firestone Liberia with the guidance it needs to undertake its planned redundancy exercise.
The ministry said its stance against Firestone comes as a result of the company’s failure to tell the ministry whether its proposed workforce cut is the “result of re-organization, transfer, discontinuance or reduction of business.”
According to Labour Minister Moses Y. Kollie, the Ministry took the decision based on the fact that section 13.4 (a) of the Decent Work Act, which states that: “change of business or ownership shall not be averred and shall not directly affect the terms of the condition of employment of workers who continue to be employed in such a business and their contract of employment is deemed of all purposes to have to continue…”
“This Government through the Ministry of Labour wishes to encourage Firestone to defer its intended action as mentioned in its recent communication in order to find an alternative to the termination of employees’ employment. Our people cannot be losing jobs while we already have a huge health crisis, coping with global economic issues. We strongly believe that Firestone as a strong partner to this country will reconsider their decision,” Min. Kollie said.