Strike early this week by dock workers, port truckers and brokers at the Freeport of Monrovia that paralyzed normal business activities in the port is just a tip of the Iceberg of what appears to be deep simmering strain in relations between the foreign-operated company APM Terminals and the Government of Liberia.
APM Terminals Liberia is a subsidiary of Danish shipping giant Maersk A/S.
The company and the Government of Liberia under former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an agreement that is reviewable after 25 years to manage cargo or container handling for the National Port Authority. It was inaugurated in Monrovia by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and began operation in 2011.
But it has come under increasing criticisms form the Weah administration for alleged arbitrary activities, including flagrant disregard for the labor law of Liberia.
The APM Terminals Management has reneged to reinstate over 20 suspended employees and pay them for the period they were out of job despite instructions by the Ministry of Labour.
Now, while the National Labor Court in Monrovia is calling on the APM Management to reinstate the dismissed employees or risk arrest, members of the Liberian Senate are equally enraged about the company's activities and have been expressing so publicly.
Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe of Bomi County, cautions that if the Liberian government did not arrest the operations of the APM Terminals here it evoke public uprising against the Weah administration and bring the government down.
Speaking Thursday, May 06, in chambers plenary of the Liberian Senate during debate on reported bad policies and labor practices by the company, he said such popular uprising could mainly come from members of the business community who bear the brunt of the company's excessive tariff.
He notes that the bad policies and terrible operations of the APM Terminals at the Freeport of Monrovia are largely responsible for daily hike in prices of commodities brought to the county while the government sits and watch.
Senator Snowe regrets for ever voting for the passage of the APM Terminals agreement while he served in the House of Representatives.
"Mr. Pro-tempore, if you ask me today, my regret since [I] started my working for the 15 years at the legislature, I will tell you is my vote for the passage of the APM Terminals agreement. The agreement is terrible and is responsible for the hardship our people are facing. Pro-tempore, do you remember when the APM Terminals took members of the House of Representatives to do fact-finding on the company's operations in Accra, Ghana, the situation is as far apart as light is from darkness," he says.
According to him, the APM Management changes cargo clearance period at the Freeport from five days to three days, and when its equipment are down, owners of containers are compelled to pay for the days the equipment are non-operational.
Adding his voice to the debate, Nimba County Senator Jeremiah Koung notes the worse aspect of the APM Terminals' agreement is that government can do no amendment until after 25 years of operation.
Senator Koung describes the agreement as a death sentence for the Liberian people and government. He urges the Weah administration to find options to handling this matter or else, it could lead to something ugly.
Meanwhile, the plenary of the Liberian Senate still investigation activities of APM Terminals' thru a special committee headed by Senator Gble-bo Brown of Maryland County.
Liberia's Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Ledgerhood J. Rennie posted on the ministry's official Facebook page that the Management of APM Terminals Liberia has been mandated by the National Labor Court to reinstate 24 employees who were suspended and locked out of the company's facilities as a result of protesting working conditions.
The Court in a communication to its clerk requested the sheriff to serve a notice of temporary restraining order on the company's management, stating that "they, under penalty of law or at risk of contempt of this honorable court", are ordered to reinstate the 24 employees that the Minister of Labor, Cllr. Charles Gibson, had earlier directed.
Some aggrieved employees of the company, with support from the Dock Workers Union, have been staging protest actions in demand of better working conditions, including unpaid leave allowances, medical insurance and food allowance.
Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean on May 4, 2021, reinforced the Labor Ministry's mandate to have the employees reinstated, pending a complete resolution of the concerns of the various parties.
Minister Dean said the "urgent Injunction", which is in accordance with the Decent Work Act of 2015, became necessary because the government is concerned that the lockout action of APM Terminals and the attendant go-slow by the employees were affecting economic activities at the Freeport of Monrovia "thus, creating a serious security problem for the state".
However, despite increasing outcry from Liberian authorities over APM Terminals' operations in the country, the company enjoys support from western diplomats in Liberia.
In February, United States Ambassador Michael McCarthy and EU Ambassador Laurent Delahousse visited the company's facilities at the Freeport of Monrovia and lauded the management for its strive to improving facilities inside the Freeport.
Ambassador McCarthy thanked APM Terminals Liberia management for their critical contributions to ensure safety and security compliance at the Freeport of Monrovia, which paved the way for Liberia's removal in December 2020 from the U.S. Coast Guard's Port Security Advisory after many years on the watch list.
Ambassador Delahousse underscored the efforts of APM Terminals Liberia to train a skilled Liberian maritime and port workforce, noting that APM has only three expat senior managers; the company employs 230 direct employees and over 1,000 subcontractors.
Both Ambassador McCarthy and Delahousse noted the importance of foreign investment, which brings good jobs, infrastructure, and tax revenue to the Liberian government and people. They also praised APM Terminals Liberia's corporate social responsibility, which has led the company to stand with Liberia through both the Ebola epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic and make substantial donations of medical facilities and supplies.