13 December 2018

Liberia: Dismissed Arcelormittal Mine Workers Cry for Justice

ArcelorMittal Liberia mine workers post for picture during what they term as "Go - slow" action in July

About 25 dismissed mine workers of ArcelorMittal are calling on the government to intervene, claiming their dismissals were illegal and infringed on their civil liberties of freedom of expression.

The dismissed workers told the Daily Observer that the management of ArcelorMittal terminated their employment status due to a go-slow action they took in July this year against some bad labor practices of the company.

A spokesman of the dismissed workers, Melvin Smith, said the management's action was repressive and intended to keep them from enjoying their civil liberties of freedom of speech and expression.

He said in 2016, the management and the National Workers Union entered an agreement to settle most of their issues raised against the company, including "Leave Allowance," which the company has refused to honor or had been delaying its adhere to the agreement.

He said the National Workers Union wrote Mittal, giving the company an ultimatum up to July 7, 2018, to address the workers' plight.

Mr. Smith explained that they waited up to July 20, 2018, before laying down their tools in demand for the leave allowance, the cancellation of Zero Week, and for better living condition, among others.

He added that the strike action drew the government's attention, and they were invited to Monrovia by officials of the Ministry of Labor for negotiations; but Mittal was still adamant abd unprepared to address their plight, thus stoking anger among the workers which prompted them to lay down their tools again.

"We the leaders were asked to return to Nimba, calm the go-slow action and wait for the Labor Ministry's response," he said. "Unfortunately, when we got to Nimba, we met suspension letters from the management, and these suspension letters turned into dismissal today," he said.

The workers said they took an appeal to the Appeal Committee of the company, but the man who offered the dismissal letters came and presided over the hearing, refusing to listen to their side.

"We were very peaceful in our action, we only parked the vehicles and waited to hear from government".

"Those of us who were asked to represent the workers in Monrovia were all dismissed," said Daniel Kamara, 46, and a father of seven. "The company is hesitant to give our pay for the years we worked for."

On July 20, 2018, normal mining activities in Yekepa, Nimba County, came to a standstill after mine workers at Mount Gangra and Mount Torkadeh staged a strike action in demand for good labor practices.

The aggrieved mine workers accused the management of not addressing their plight, rather continuing to suppress or intimidate them.

The workers demanded the removal of what is termed as "zero week." They want improved feeding at work, better housing facilities and good health care.

For the "zero week," they complained that in some weeks they would work for 12 hours and would not get their wages and that there was also no over time.

They also said the company promised to give each person US$0.50 a day for lunch, but the money promised has not been disbursed for the past three months.

"If you are unfortunate to begin work from Wednesday, then you will fall in the zero week, meaning, you will not be marked for that week," said one of the aggrieved workers at the time of the strike.

As soon as the go-slow action ended in July, the leader of the workers went missing. It was later found out that he had been somewhere in Monrovia.

One of the workers is refusing to return to work, if the company reinstates him, because he fears that he is being targeted by the management.

"I am only advocating for my back pay and other benefits, and I don't want to go back, because I will be targeted by the company and dismissed falsely," said Randolph Wilson, a truck operator.

When contacted, the company's Communication Manager Ms. Amanda Hills, via email confirmed the dismissals, saying the workers were dismissed for the illegal strike action they carried out in July.

Meanwhile, the dismissed workers are calling on the national government to intervene so that they can be reinstated, because they believe their dismissal was done illegally and intended to silence them from speaking about their rights.

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