Liberia: Aggrieved Workers Take LEC to Court Over Delayed Five Years Compensation

Ganta — Esther Dixon, 68, could not afford to miss a gathering in Ganta city by aggrieved workers of the Liberia Electricity Corporation of Nimba County. She listened attentively as the men explain to a visiting reporter why they are demanding "just compensation" from Liberia's main power utility company.

Walker's husband died in December 2018 after he had reportedly worked for five years without compensation. He was amongst 113 persons recruited in 2012 by the LEC and assigned across the four power stations in the county.

Following Mr. Walker's demise, his wife was hopeful of receiving his compensation. But the wait is becoming unending.

"I'm asking the government to pay my husband's money so I can be able to take care of myself since he is no more," said Ms. Dixon, who hopes the money covers an eye doctor's fee for her surgery and enable her to start a small business in Ganta city.

Walker is not alone. Yah Flomo says life is "very hard" since her husband's demise.

"Right now I'm living by begging family members," Yah, who's in her late 60s, said dimly. "We have been trying to get our husbands' salaries from LEC for long but we can't get it.

"At least when I get that money I can begin to do something to take care of myself and my children. The government must have feelings for us and pay this money."

Also, Mercy Gonkartee, 52, was at the gathering in her husband's stead. He's alive but could not attend due to medical issues.

"We are praying to God so that the government can make way for us to get this money," said the mother of seven.

"My husband was electrocuted while working for LEC and since then he has been sick and sick and no money to treat him good."

Recruited For WAPP Project

Since 2017, these aggrieved former workers claimed they have been engaging the management of LEC to no avail.

They were hired to work at the Nimba grid, which is made of four power stations located in Sanniquelle, Ganta, Yekepa and Saclapea. When they were recruited, the stations were operated as part of the West Africa Power Poll project.

The former project manager of LEC, Joseph Leay, recruited the workers after they applied based on a public service announcement aired on local radio stations, said Emmanuel Sann, spokesperson for the aggrieved workers.

Although no written employment contracts were ever signed, these former workers claimed they were often promised compensation by officials of the corporation who regularly visited the stations.

"They always told us we should continue to work - and we knew that it was a normal routine for the LEC," Sann added.

"Because sometime when they start, you will work and surprisingly they will come and pay your salary arrears - that was the impression they put us under."

In 2016, LEC outsourced the electricity service in the county to a local private company. And the workers began to worry.

"We became so panicked and decided to write the appropriate authority to get them involved to see that they make a decision," Sann said, adding that they could not blame WAPP or the private company for their salary arrears.

"We hold the LEC responsible because they were the monitoring arm of WAPP; in fact, the life span of the contract has expired so LEC is the one we hold ... , as we speak we have some living evidence that we can show to prove our case."

'Double Standard'

The aggrieved former workers claim despite several engagements with the management of LEC, the results have been fruitless due to "double standard games" by the company and some county lawmakers.

So far, engagements with the county lawmakers, including several interventions by Senator Prince Johnson, have also proven futile.

And Evangelist Peterson Segran, who claims to be the human resource officer for the Saclapea station and now leads the advocacy, alleges that several members of the county legislative caucus have also been playing "double standard".

Segran accused some legislative caucus members of "siding with LEC", defeating the interventions of others, who have been advocating in their behalf.

"When this issue was taken up, two of the honorable - Joseph Somwarbi [District Three] and Roger Domah [District Seven] - took the issue to the plenary, but Sam Kogar of District Five requested that the issue be brought home so that it can be settled," he explained, adding that since then nothing has been done so far.

A US$723,000 Claim

Now, the 113 former workers -- three already deceased -- are claiming a total of US$723,000 in compensation. They said the calculation was done with the assistance of legal experts based on provisions in Liberia's labor law.

At the same time, they are alleging workers in other counties, who were recruited in similar manner for the LEC, have been compensated while their plight lingers.

Moses Fraley, who heads the rural department at the LEC, said the situation was created before his administration.

Farley told FrontPageAfrica via mobile phone that during a meeting with the former workers, they "had some tangible papers or prove" to argue their claims.

"Somebody from the LEC had told them that they were going to be employed," he said, adding that "They had some documents to show that they worked and this was authenticated by Mr. Floyd".

Tomah Seh Floyd is CEO of the Jungle Energy Company in Nimba County - the private firm LEC outsourced the power service to in 2016.

When contacted via phone, Mr. Floyd insisted he knew nothing about the agreement between LEC and the former workers and that he "only attended a meeting with the lawmakers", who were seeking details about the workers' claims.

Meanwhile, Mr. Farley could not confirm the legitimacy of the workers claims because "the senior staff who might have assured the workers of compensation and employment might not be working with the company again".

'Not Out For Violence'

Despite the many delays, which have caused a mixture of social problems for these former workers, they are keen on avoiding any violent approach.

"We want an amicable solution to our grievance because we are from Nimba County - people consider us to be trouble makers," Mr. Segran said.

"For this reason, we've decided to take the legal way in order to approach our issue... We are not out for violence."

Many of these aggrieved workers who gathered also denounced any unlawful remedy. Steve Doloson, 39, was deputy supervisor for the four power stations. He's now representative for 46 of the aggrieved employees who are less than 40 years of age.

"We will take the case with legality; we will not take it with violence. We're going to follow the rightful procedure and with that we don't think we will fail," Doloson said.

"The only alternative we have is to go through court proceeding because we are professional people, we do not want to engage in violence because violence cannot solve our problem."

Ready To 'Fight In The Court'

They have now turned to human rights advocates and lawyers, seeking to file a lawsuit against the corporation.

"We have gone to the Carter Center and the negotiation is already being finalized with the Liberia National Bar Association to give us some credible lawyers to try our case," said Sann, who is pretty optimistic the court will render them justice.

"Because the LEC thinks we do not have the financial capacity, they want to play on us and throw our case aside.

"The more they frustrate us the stronger we become, and we are telling them that the time for their double standard game has reached the bottom and we have no space anymore to hold it. We are ready and prepare to fight this case."

Added Mr. Segran: "We trust the court - the judges - that they will judge this case fairly and at the end of the day we should be compensated for the five years we served."

Meanwhile, the Mercy and the women present at the meeting seemed confident their men will keep pushing until they get the compensation.

"When I see the way they are serious about getting this money and they can't get tired, I'm sure we will get this money. Whether it stays long for 10 years, we will get it," Ms Gonkartee said

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