Operations at the concession site of steel giant ArcelorMittal are at a standstill, owing to a go–slow action by workers, who are demanding better wages, benefits and improved living conditions.
Reports reaching the Daily Observer late yesterday suggest that the workers have stayed out of work since Monday morning, until their demands are addressed by management.
According to the aggrieved workers, the company decreased their salaries and cut down their benefits during the fall of the price of iron ore last year but, with the improvement of the price on the world market, the company is yet to add what was subtracted from their wages and benefits.
The aggrieved workers complained that since 2014 all their benefits including school fees for five children, overtime, bonus, job site feeding, among many others, have been cut.
“The same job we are doing in Liberia is the same mining going on in Australia, and everywhere Mittal has its company operating workers receive their just benefits,” the workers said.
“Since 2014, we have been running shifts. We work for 12 hours, but the management is paying for eight hours, no bonus, no feeding and the salary is not enough to carry us throughout the month,” Sandee Ware, a caterpillar operator explained.
They also alleged that the management has cut student benefits from five to three children, refused to provide them food at the job site as it used to be, while at the same time their water supply was reduced. They also complained of not having any bonuses or overtime.
“We Liberians are doing the mining and we are not getting our just benefits. Why should we labor in our own country like this?” Sandee Ware asked. “We leave our homes at 4am and return at 6pm, but our salaries cannot contain us,” another worker only identified as Goffa, said.
A security officer of the private security firm manning the Mittal facilities, who did not want to be named, confirmed the go–slow action and added that it is also affecting the company’s entire workforce.
“My wife went to the hospital this morning for treatment and nurses did not respond to her until five hours later,” he said. “She even came from the hospital with a list of drugs to be bought outside, because the hospital does not have them in stock,” the man said.
Citizens have been complaining of the poor living conditions of workers and ordinary people at the concession town of Yekapa, the Daily Observer has learned. At the County Council Sitting last year, a resident of Yekapa made a presentation calling on the government to intervene in the prevailing condition at the concession, beginning with poor healthcare and lack of safe drinking water for community dwellers.
In this latest development, the aggrieved workers also complained of poor healthcare, where they say there is limited workforce and drugs at the hospital.
“As the price of the iron ore goes up, we expect the management to bring on board those who were downsized last year. Instead, the management puts out vacancies and making demands of everybody, including those that were downsized, despite the assurance that they will be recalled if the prices of iron ore improve,” said another worker.
However, the workers are saying that they want all their benefits reinstated and their salaries increased before they can return to work.
“We have been fooled too long and the management always threatened us of bringing in another workforce whenever we put in our plight or demands,” one of them explained.
When contacted a spokesperson for ArcelorMittal Liberia confirmed the the go-slow and said some employees have listed some points of concern which are currently under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) discussions between the management and its Workers’ Union. The annual CBA renegotiation process, which started in late 2016, was postponed until next week by a general consensus of all relevant parties as a result of the holidays.
“We have engaged and communicated to the union that we would like to resume the CBA renegotiations next week. Normal operations at our Buchanan port continues, with shipping and fulfillment to our customers ongoing. ArcelorMittal always adheres to the employment laws in every country in which it operates, including Liberia,” the spokesperson said.