Protesting Ministerial Complex Workers Bring Traffic To A Halt At 540

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1976
Traffic jam at 540 Junction, location of the Ministerial Complex (left)

(Pictures in old network, final draft-2018-February 13-‘Jerry Photo’ folder)

Traffic came to a halt at the crossroads housing the new site for the ministerial complex in the 540 community yesterday, when protesting casual workers blocked all vehicular traffic passing the gates of the construction site over the alleged failure of the Chinese contractors to pay the workers their agreed upon wages.

The aggrieved workers in their hundreds swarmed the gates of the construction site demanding their pay after they said their Chinese employers and contracting company, Kuangdu Construction Company, reneged on their word to settle the workers.

Worker Lawrence S. Kounjue , standing by the road outside the ongoing construction site,  told the Daily Observer that they decided to stage the protest after their Chinese overlords refused to pay them the US$0.70 (seventy U.S. cents) they had agreed to pay the downsized workers as overtime pay for the duration of the time they worked at the site.

The group of day-workers made up of masons, plumbers, carpenters, steel benders, electricians, and heavy duty mechanics and drivers said they had been working with the China aided construction company for as far back as a year and a half constructing the new ministerial complex at the old Ministry of Defense site in the 540 community.

“Last year when we first started working, we had agreed that the Chinese pay us US$2.50 as overtime pay, which they would pay us at the end of our contract,” said Kounjue. He said they were paid US$5 per day across the board – for skilled and unskilled workers – after the former Minister of Public Works, Gyude Moore, negotiated with the Chinese on their behalf.

It was then agreed that the amount of US$1 per worker should be paid for working on holidays or Sundays.

“The first protest we had in August last year was over them going back on their word to pay us this US$1 a day for working on Sundays and holidays. We worked without insurance and other benefits so we saw it fit to negotiate for the holiday pay to boost our pay,” said one of the leaders of the workers, Daniel Siawhat. “We also made some other demands, such as transport fare, food, and salary increment.”

Workers in line waiting to get in to get their pay

According to the men, yesterday’s protest action was necessitated by the Kuangdu Construction Company officials’ refusal to pay the men their severance package that included their overtime pay. Some of the men said they started working at the site since the start of the construction project over a year and a half ago, adding that some started as recently as three months ago.

Nimba County Senator Thomas Grupee, who the men had called to help negotiate with the Chinese, said the trouble started after the leaders of the workers met with the Chinese on Monday, January 8 this year where, instead of the US$2.50 per hour for overtime pay that was agreed upon sometime last year, they grudgingly accepted  the Chinese’s demand of US$0.70 (seventy cents). “But when it came time to pay, the Chinese again changed the amount to US$0.50. That was what led to today’s protest action against the Kuangdu Construction Company,” the Senator said.

Descending on the gates of the site of  the new ministerial complex, the aggrieved laid off workers not only blocked traffic but attacked individuals and damaged properties belonging to innocent bystanders and businesses close to the site. From the east of Tubman Boulevard, traffic was blocked from the Palm Spring Resort past the ministerial complex as far west as the offices of Lonestar MTN; even the Congo Town back road was congested as protesting workers stopped traffic until the intervention of officers from the Liberia National Police (LNP), Senator Grupee, and District #10 Representative, Yekeh Kolubah.

“The protest action worked, because the Chinese decided to pay the men off. But the question is why did they have to deny the men their pay only to now pay them after they blocked traffic and caused damage to properties?” asked Senator Grupee.

Arriving at the construction site, a visibly upset Representative Kolubah admonished the Chinese paymasters that it was unethical for them to push the workers into protesting and causing the traffic jam and damage to properties.

Dist #10 Rep. Yekeh Kolubah

“You will be responsible for all the damage these men caused. This process started three weeks ago when you agreed to pay the men, but then changed your mind. You will make sure that you pay them all today, even if it means leaving here at 4 a.m. tomorrow, you will pay every one of them. You will also be responsible to feed them and the officers here,” Rep. Kolubah instructed.

He then advised the workers to behave themselves and cause no further problems as their demand for pay was being met.

Speaking to a Chinese worker who refused to state his name, he said the men were laid off because the work at the construction site has reached a point where workers with highly technical skills are needed.

After receiving their pay, several of the ex-Kuangdu Construction Company temporary workers said they not only regretted the protest action, but also regretted the fact that the Chinese didn’t pay them the US$2.50 that was originally agreed upon.

Unconfirmed reports say the men were paid anywhere from US$350 downwards, according to the calculations of the Chinese bosses.

Meanwhile drivers and community residents caught up in the fracas said while they were against the violence, they nonetheless understood the aggrieved workers’ need to protest for their pay.

“It shouldn’t have come down to this (the protest and violence) though, but I am happy that at least they are now getting paid,” said a taxi driver.

It can be recalled that apart from working from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the workers blamed the causes of the August 2017 protest action on poor labor practices, including no insurance, non issuance of protective gears, not being fed and transported, being underpaid, and being demanded to pay US$5 for a company issued helmet, which is refundable at the end of the contract.

A gift from the People’s Republic of China, the complex, which sits on 24,000 square meters, will host most of the Government of Liberia’s agencies and ministries, and would be the second largest Chinese constructed building on the continent next to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It is being constructed at the cost of US$60 million.

Authors

4 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t know if it’s just me, but this tendency for senators or representatives to intervene in situations like workers’ strikes, students’ strikes, drivers strikes, motorcyclists, etc., etc., does not seem advisable and in synch with the law. The law relative to the separation of powers doctrine. No doubt, the peace and tranquility of any society is the prerogative of every member including its elected officials. Nevertheless, there are just certain aspects of those expectations cut out for specific people, thereby restraining the direct intervention of others. That invokes the Check and Balance roles of our three branches of government as a function of the “Separation of Powers” doctrine. In order to fulfill those obligations in earnest, our constitution provides that no member of any branch ought to discharge any function pertaining to any of the other two branches. This is the only way any one branch can evaluate or check any of the other two, and render a fair and impartial judgment. So when legislators are the first to jump in what is purely within the confines of the Executive, it becomes troubling. On the other hand what is rational and within the prerogative of the legislature in this instance, for example, is to cite the heads of the ministry with oversight of this construction, or the heads of the construction company to clarify, provide explanation, etc., as to why things are proceeding the way they are, thus resulting into the ongoing situation. But when legislators intervene in these executive related matters in such activist manners, it spells meddling and overarching. Purely for personal popularity but against the norm.

    • @ H. S.
      You hit the nail on the head! Perhaps our former student-activist lawmakers should go back and read what it means by separation of power. I will post it here from the National Conference of State Legislatures for them to read.

      The term “trias politica” or “separation of powers” was coined by Charles-Louis de Secondat, an 18th century French social and political philosopher. His publication, Spirit of the Laws, is considered one of the great works in the history of political theory and jurisprudence, and it inspired the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Constitution of the United States (which Liberia’s 1986 rigged Constitution tried to model itself after).

      Under his model, the political authority of the state is divided into legislative, executive and judicial powers. He asserted that, to most effectively promote liberty, these three powers must be separate and act independently.

      Separation of powers, therefore, refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.

      The traditional characterizations of the powers of the branches of American (like the Liberian) government are:

      * The legislative branch is responsible for enacting the laws of the state and appropriating the money necessary to operate the government.

      * The executive branch is responsible for implementing and administering the public policy enacted and funded by the legislative branch.

      * The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the constitution and laws and applying their interpretations to controversies brought before it.

      These former student-activist lawmakers are functioning as both executive and legislative branches of government in Liberia. Where is the labor Minister in this matter or call the Chinese managers for questioning….….at the Capitol.

      Blatant disregard for the separation of power in Liberia.

  2. THE CHINESE ARE AFRAID OF TARNISHING THEIR POLITICAL IMAGE!!!!

    The Chinese have a tendency of bringing workers from China to do most of their construction projects around the world, mostly in developing countries. This is a way of providing jobs for their overpopulated country.

    Secondly, the idea of workers’ rights is not germane to labor practices in China. They hardly allow workers to go on strike or demand fair wages in China. However, things are gradually changing in China.
    Younger Chinese Workers are beginning to demand higher wages in present day China thus making production cost of doing business in China relatively expensive. The Chinese find it much cheaper to exploit cheap labor markets in Africa.

    Liberia is a country with modest labor laws that need to be enforced in order to avoid these Chinese Contractors from cheating our unskilled workers whenever a contract on wage agreement and other working arrangements have been agreed upon. These Chinese are trying to pocket every nickel and dime to send home to their family.

    These workers should protest but they should do it peacefully to be respected!!!!

    Recent Update to US$60 million Ministerial Complex as the 2nd largest Chinese funded Building Complex in Africa as purported by the author.

    According to a post (2/14/2018) on CGTN.Africa (China Global Television Network Africa), “China to establish US$62 million transport University in Tanzania.”

    This Chinese Government funded amount of US$62 million for a Transport University in Tanzania (catering to training pilots and other transportation engineers) surpasses the US$60 million ministerial complex currently being built in Liberia.

    When this Transport University is completed, it will make it the second largest Chinese funded complex to the African Union headquarters built by the Chinese in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and not the US$60 million ministerial complex in Liberia as reported in the Daily Observer (FYI).

    As reported, “Tanzania plans to increase their local pilots from 183 to 456 when the Transport University is completed.”

    What is Liberia doing in terms of training in the much needed transportation industry? We need pilots, train engineers, train conductors, and public transport conductors/drivers.

    East African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, etc. are training much needed technical skilled manpower while Liberia Universities are training sociologists, economists, accountants, journalists, lawyers, and politicians that are already over-saturated in the Liberian job market.

    We do need the Chinese as partners but they should respect our labor laws!!!!!

  3. Snyder,
    It’s not just you man. It’s some or most of us from the sidelines who are observing such dispicable interventions. First, the constitution of our country does not say that such interventions are consistent with their assigned duties and secondly, the legislators seem so power-hungry that they disrespectully encroach on the duties of the Executive branch that’s headed by Weah. Liberia has had no coins for the past 12 years thereby enabling us to possess the ugliest distinction of being the only country on earth that bothers not to use coins. Shoot, that’s not a good distinction! The issue of coins could be a hot agenda item for them. But sadly, they seem to be interested in doing conflict resolutions. Goodness!

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