The Liberian Senate in an unusual angry mood yesterday ordered the Secretary of the Senate to summon the management of the APM Terminals to answer why should not be held in contempt of the Legislature.
The motion, proffered by the chairman of the Committee on Executive, Senator Saah Joseph, and angrily supported by Pro-tempore Albert Chie, followed a hearing report by the Committee on Labor and Judiciary.
The complaint was authored by Senator Abraham Darius Dillon against the reported unfair labor practices by the APM Terminals against the Dock Workers’ Union.
In the findings of the two committees read before the Senate plenary on Wednesday, October 7, it was observed that the Dock Workers’ Union complaint was serious and that several efforts were made with the Minister of Labor, but to no avail, that ruling from the hearing officers at the Ministry of Labor was not adhered to by the APM Terminals management, and that the collective bargaining agreement between the APM Terminals and the Dock Workers’ Union had long expired and, as such, the management is operating on the handbook.
Also, the committee further observed that the APM Terminals is not complying with its own handbook. It stated in the report that lawyers representing the legal interest of APM Terminals neither deny nor accept the workers claims, but were rather contending that the workers should complain to the Ministry of Labor, instead of the Senate.
But Senators attending the hearing argued that the mandate from the plenary to look into said matter can only be reported to plenary for subsequent action or decision.
In a rather surprising recommendation, the committee, in what it described as the spirit of coordination between the Legislature and Executive, and considering the plight of the Dock Workers Union, said: “The committee recommends that plenary officially informs the Ministry of Labor through its Minister to handle this matter in keeping Sections 36.4, 36.5, 36.6 and 36.7 of the Decent Work Bill Act.”
However, in the debate that followed, the majority Senators were visibly astonished over comments attributed to the legal team of the APM Terminals, especially in their understanding of what matters can be investigated by the Legislature.
Senator Dillon, reacting to the report, suggested that instead of forwarding the report to the Ministry of Labor, the Minister should be summoned to appear before the Senate to explain why they have not been enforcing their own instructions to the APM Terminals.
For his part, Maryland County Senator John Gbleh-bo Brown described the report as disturbing and expressed disappointment in the two committees that signed it (report).
“The first thing is that the committee reported that there is a documented evidence of labor abuse; the lawyers refused to cooperate with the committee on grounds that the workers should not have brought complaints to the Senate, but to Labor; which is an affront to the committee,” Senator Brown angrily intimated.
“Mr. Chairman, I listened to the report, and you named those that were present, I didn’t hear any committee on Judiciary, but they signed that report; Pro-temp, we have to take our hearings very seriously; how can a law firm dictate to a committee of the Liberian Senate what to do; what should come before us and what should not, and then we follow their instructions and you brought that to the Senate for us to act on? That’s appalling,” Senator Brown asserted, adding, “I think we should reject that report.”
In an unprecedented angry tone, Pro-temp Chie yelled: “I will not entertain any company in this country to come here to the Senate to take us for play, they should come here Friday.”