Liberia: Reps. Jones, Tarponweh Cut Deal With Firestone Over Redundant Workers' Children's Tuition

Two Margibi Lawmakers Ivar K. Jones and Tilberosa Tarponweh have appealed to Firestone to see reason and allow the students return to their various campuses on the concession area and continue their learning activities for the current academic year.

Representatives of Margibi County Electoral Districts #1 and #2 have put smiles on the faces of hundreds of their constituents, mainly those recently laid off by the management of Firestone Liberia by accepting to reimburse the company in the amount of nearly US$5,000 in order to allow children of the laid-off workers attending the Firestone school system complete their studies for the current academic year.

In a joint letter dated May 15, 2019 to the management of Firestone, Representatives Ivar K. Jones (Margibi District 1) and Tiberosa S. Tarponweh (Margibi District 2) said they understood the constraints faced by the redundant parents who accepted the US$75 student relocation stipend and that it will be extremely detrimental if the students affected do not complete their studies in this academic year.

Recently, the management of Firestone made a payment of US $75.00 per student to redundant employees as relocation stipends. The payment was to disallow the continuity of the enrollment of Firestone redundant employees' dependents in the Firestone School System.

The two Lawmakers appealed to Firestone to see reason and allow the students return to their various campuses and continue their learning activities for this academic year.

They also called on the management of Firestone to consider consultation with their respective offices (Reps. Jones and Tarponweh) on payment plans as they make efforts to reimburse the money already collected and used by the laid-off parents, whose children are the affected students.

"Since we are parents before being elected Representatives, we write through this medium committing ourselves to guarantee full settlement of monies their parents received from the Company. We, therefore, request that you kindly allow the children back in school to complete the necessary academic requirements for their respective classes, while modalities are being worked out with your Finance Office to arrange repayment," Jones and Tarponweh said.

In a reply letter dated May 17, 2019 to the two Lawmakers, the management of Firestone said it welcomes the idea and will ensure that the students return to their various schools and continue their learning for this academic year, which is expected to end in July.

"The management of Firestone acknowledges receipt of your letter dated May 15, 2019 requesting management to allow children of redundant workers who received the education relocation stipend to re-enroll in the Firestone School System to complete the current academic year," Firestone Liberia's reply to the two lawmakers, signed by the general manager, Don Darden, said.

He added: "The management of Firestone is committed to educating Liberian children and we have no objection to the request as stipulated in your letter. As time is of essence, we are requesting that every student in that category report to their assigned school as soon as possible within the next two weeks. Teachers have been informed and will work with the re-enrolled students in order for them to catch up on any lessons missed.

"With the understanding that some employees recently made redundant will choose to relocate outside the concession area and enroll their children in schools of their choosing, the management of Firestone Liberia offered the redundant workers, as an added benefit, the option of a relocation stipend of US$75 per student towards enrollment fees in different school."

And even during the redundancy exercise, when the disbursement of the optional student relocation stipend had commenced, the company's legal personnel and other employees who are still in good standing with the company explained to the parents that their children could be put out of school should they accept the relocation stipend. Yet, almost all of them still accepted to take the money.

"Further, the principals of each school will keep records of re-admitted students and compile a report over the next two weeks. This verified information and additional counts will be communicated to you as a basis for reimbursement," Darden said to Reps. Jones and Tarponweh.

Approximately 800 hundred employees, on whose names the students have been benefiting from the Firestone School System, were laid off at the beginning of April 2019 due to what Firestone described as "continued and unsustainable losses resulting from high overhead costs associated with the company's agreement with the Government of Liberia, low natural rubber production because of the country's prolonged Civil Wars and continued low global natural rubber prices."

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