Liberia: House Summons Firestone, Justice and Labor Ministers Over Redundancy Plans

On or before Liberia's 173rd Independence Day Celebration -- July 26, 2020 -- Firestone anticipates laying off 374 employees over what they generally described as "serious challenges."

Members of the House of Representatives are gearing for a huge fight against the redundancy of the second batch of 374 employees at Firestone Liberia Inc. because, the House is starting to see a pattern or "Conception of Annual Redundancy."

In April 2019, over 800 employees were laid off and, according to the company, it was necessary due to continued unsustainable losses and overhead costs associated with its Concession Agreement with the Liberian Government, low natural rubber production and declining global prices for rubber.

Back then, the House failed to reach a compromise to either reduce or thwart the redundancy of the workers.

On or before Liberia's 173rd Independence Day Celebration -- July 26, 2020 -- Firestone anticipates laying off 374 employees over what they generally described as "serious challenges."

There are conscious warning that the layoff of Liberians or residents of Liberia is worsening shocks knowingly that Liberia's economy is still struggling to recover fully from the effects of multiple shocks in recent years.

In order to prevent the dismissal of the 374 Firestone workers, the House has summoned the Firestone Management along with Labor Minister Moses Kollie and Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean to appear before the Plenary (open) on Tuesday, July 14 at 10 a.m. to explain details of the Firestone-Liberia Company's decision to redundant the 374 employees primarily from the Company's Estate Department.

Those to be affected are: 126 miscellaneous workers, 191 tappers, 31 tapping headmen, 8 overseers, 6 drivers, 6 clerks, 5 superintendents and 1 manager; totaling 374 employees.

The House's Plenary unanimously took the decision on Thursday, July 9 following a communication from the House's Chairman on Investment and Concessions, Rep. Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh, entreating the indulgence of the Plenary to invite the Management of Firestone Liberia, Inc. to state reasons for her anticipated determination tends to affect the livelihoods of over three hundred (300) Liberian citizens.

Speaking in Plenary, Rep. Tarponweh said the Company's action to outsource their co-work (tapping) without authorization is a violation of Section 14.5 of the Decent Work Act of Liberia.

He further narrated that Firestone's reason for their previous redundancy has created more doubts than answers and, as such, their redundancy has caused harm to many Liberian citizens within their employ especially during this period of this global pandemic.

"We are raising this issue because our fellow citizens will be affected if we do not act now. What Firestone did created more doubts than answers," The Margibi County District #1 Lawmaker lamented. "In 2019, Firestone laid off over 300 employees under the pretense of low production. The Company brought in their own revolving door approach by hiring these same redundant workers as contractors without benefits. What we see our partners doing is being creative by harming our people. Let Firestone be requested to explain why they are outsourcing their co-work without authorization. It signals violation."

Other Lawmakers, including Rep. Ivar K. Jones, Rep. Clarence Nassamuadi, Rep. Ben A. Fofana, Rep. Mariamu Fofana, Rep. Ellen Attoh-Wreh, Rep. George Boley and Rep. Samuel Kogar, are among others who expressed disappointment over the redundancy.

Firestone Liberia entered into a concession agreement with the Government of Liberia in 1926 to engage in the cultivation and exportation of rubber products but, according to its management, the company's operations continue to face daunting challenges. As such, according to management, the company has concluded to reduce their work force.

Before Plenary summoned Firestone, the Margibi County District #1 Lawmaker, through the House of Representatives' Statutory Committee on Concessions and Investment, invited the Management of Firestone Liberia to a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, July 8, 2020 in the First Floor Conference Room of the Capitol Building. The Margibi County Legislative Caucus members were also part of the meeting.

During the committee's meeting with Firestone, the Lawmakers called on the Management of Firestone Liberia to halt their anticipated decision so that a thorough investigation can be conducted.

The Chairman on the House's Committee on Investment and Concessions, addressing a team of journalists on Capitol Hill following the Committee's meeting with Firestone, disclosed that the Committee found inconsistencies in the Management's statement by downsizing employees and retiring these employees as contractors. This indicates that the workers and their dependents will not be eligible to housing, medical, education and other benefits.

According to Firestone's communication, dated June 24, 2020, to Mr. Abraham D. Nimene, president of the Workers Union, the 374 employees are from the Estate's Department.

Firestone's Human Resource Director, Winleta A. Henries, writes: "The communication is intended to inform you of anticipated reduction at Firestone Liberia."

She said: "As per previous discussions with you and members of the Union, Firestone Liberia's operations continue to face serious challenges and, as a result, our management team must make necessary discussion to help ensure the viability of the company in Liberia."

The letter indicated: "As part of the above referenced decision, Firestone Liberia anticipates a reduction in its workforce head count of approximately Three Hundred Seventy Four (374) employees primarily from our Estate's Department. The effective date of this redundancy action is July 26, 2020."

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