3 September 2012

Liberia: Extolling ArcelorMittal-Workers Union's Agreement


The world's largest steel company, Arcelor-Mittal, deserves a huge pat on the back for ceding what most of its peers operating in the country and in other developing countries would hardly want to do--formalizing industrial relations agreement with workers. We agree with National Investment Commission Chairman Natty Davis who said at the signing of the Agreement that by this singular development, Arcelor-Mittal makes itself an enviable model of industrial relations negotiation and "a shining example to all".

Many known transnational and multi-continental concessionaires in the past and even now, often feeling justified by huge outlays and direct returns to Government in terms of taxes, would choose to remain arrogant, callous and unruly in their relations with employees and victims. But despite the fact Arcelor-Mittal is amongst the very few biggest foreign investments in post-conflict Liberia, coupled with its attractive corporate social responsibility commitments, it has ignored the temptation and eschewed the traits of tyrannical manners characteristic of big investors. We can't help but say a big thank you to the steel giant as well as unionists and government negotiators for the   Collective Bargaining Agreement signed during the weekend.

Indeed, it cannot be gainsaid that by subjecting itself to formal agreements--clearly defined commitments--with workers, Arcelor-Mittal not only sows the seeds of industrial peace and Liberia's economic revitalization, but also contributes to the sustainability of national peace and harmony. We think this way because, in the past in this country and other struggling democracies, labor unrests or conditions that give rise to these unrests, provided pretexts and conduits through which political agitations and conflicts found justifications. In the revival of peace and stability following years of civil conflict in which labor-related grievances were also factors, public and private organizations cannot lose sight of the need of creating the conducive atmospheres that would timely ameliorate   and event advert incidents that bear resemblance of those conditions that entrenched poverty and marginalization and necessitated disharmony and conflict.

Looking back,a critical consideration of historical facts would find that a cabal of foreign capitalists and the Liberian ruling elites not only played major contributive roles in the country's underdevelopment and pervasive poverty but also cited by passive and violent activists and freedom fighters as stimulants for change, including the serial ruinous armed insurgencies that turned out to worsen the every appalling conditions they had come to make better. There was little or no line of distinction between public policy and corporate policy; the distinction so blurred that senior public officials were hired legal and media consultants of high profile foreign companies and the foreign investment-minded moguls recompensed with ambassadorial posts for Liberia abroad. The quid pro quo conspiracy between the two powerful blocs saw a colossal reign of terror and onslaught upon Liberian workers and concession-area-situated communities and locals that were left with no means of redress and relief. Political activists found these conditions fertile, and rightly so, for the effective propagation of their anti-establishmentarian agenda.

In present day Liberia, despite the intensive reform measures underway, there appears little evidence that the public-corporate cabal is no more. High profile officials, including ruling party executives, are still fronting for foreign barons and multinational companies. It is against this background that, while we commend Acelor-Mittal for consummating Collective Bargaining Agreement, we do so cautiously because many agreements intended to improve the lot of Liberian workers were floated and set aside. Hope this will not be the case with the Mittal-workers agreement, however hailed as a pioneering effort.

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