Former employees of the National Iron Ore Company (NIOC) are threatening to disrupt operations of Western Cluster Liberia as a way of registering their concerns about delays in settling their severance benefits.
Located in western Liberia, the Western Cluster project consists of three mining concessions, the Bomi, Mano and Bea, with over 3,000 Mt of iron ore resource.
In 2009, the Government of Liberia selected ELENILTO for the development of the Western Cluster iron mega-project. Elenilto has executed a 25-year Mineral Development Agreement with the Government of Liberia to develop the mines. According to ELENILTO, the project involves a major construction of the railroad, port, and mining infrastructure and advanced facilities.
The National Iron Ore Company operated in the Mano River Community in Grand Cape Mount County and near Tubmanburg in Bomi County in the 1960s and closed in 1985, following what government termed at the time as a “downturn” in the price of iron ore in the iron and steel industry.
A strong-worded document from the former workers indicates that 1,820 workers have been on the waiting list to be settled since 1985, but government has not addressed their plight; which they say will now result in actions rather than mere talk.
A special government notice under the signature of former Finance Minister Nathaniel Barnes, also notes that the National Iron Ore Company is principally owned by the Government of Liberia, but closed its operations in 1985 as a result of a downturn in the iron and steel industry, leaving 1,820 employees unsettled in their severance and other benefits.
According to this document, copies of which are in the possession of this paper, government and the employees reached an agreement that if NIOC would resume operation, the same employees would be employed as required by law and best practice guiding economic recession and employment.
Moreover, it states that if any succeeding company comes to take over the mines, the former workers would be paid their benefits from funds provided by such company.
James T. Mafalon, Chairman of the former NIOC Workers Union told this paper that during closure of the company, expatriates were paid their benefits after which government made a promissory note that upon resumption of the company or any other company that may take over, their benefits would be paid.
According to Mr. Mafalon, they were present when a concession agreement was signed between the Government of Liberia and Western Cluster in 2011, and an up-front payment was made in the tune of US$40.5 million to government.
The disenchanted workers union chairman stressed that government was informed about the unsettled benefits of the former workers, but since then they are yet to see the fulfillment of the promise made with document to substantiate.
The workers’ union chairman said they would not surrender to any piece of advice at this time but would halt and impede every activity of the company taking over NIOC to ensure that their benefits are made available.
Mr. Mafalon alluded the case is in court pending investigation, but alleged that government lawyers are playing delay tactics in order to draw attention from it.
He said the radical step would certainly draw government’s attention to their plight since it (government) does not respect the diplomatic channel the workers have been following over the years.
When contacted via mobile phone on January 22, 2014, Press and Public Affairs Manager of Western Cluster, Ansu Conneh, said the company cannot make any comment on matters between government and the former workers.