Considering the most recent measures taken by the Liberian government against ArcelorMittal, it appears that the lawsuit filed by former Senate Pro Temp and Grand Bassa County Senator Gbehzongar Findley against world steel giant is bearing some fruits.
Findley announced his lawsuit against ArcelorMittal for alleged failure to adhere to most of the provisions within its mineral agreement signed with the government of Liberia.
Mr. Findley, immediate past Foreign Minister of Liberia, hired the services of prominent criminal lawyer, Cllr. Arthur Johnson, to fight the matter in court.
He is demanding ArcelorMittal to meet up with its obligations, including payment of social development funds, issues of production not met and revenues be paid to the Government of Liberia.
It came on the heels of recent pronouncement by ArcelorMittal that it signed an amendment to the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with the Liberian Government to pave the way for the expansion of the company’s mining and logistics operations in Liberia.
But given the Liberian government’s clear desire to reap approximately $0.8 billion from the forthcoming expansion project, the Labor Ministry has at long last ordered Arcelor Mittal-Liberia to pay a whooping US$308,000 to aggrieved former workers, constituting total and final settlement for unfair labor practices meted against them by the management. This has brought to an end the long wait by the aggrieved workers to get justice. This was contained in a ruling read by Labor Minister Charles Gibson.
Government ordered ArcelorMittal to commence the disbursement of said amount directly to the affected workers as of Thursday, September 23, 2021. It added that the payment be disbursed to affected workers in Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties and be completed before October 1, 2021.
According to the ruling, the leadership of the aggrieved formers workers should be given US$15,000 to cover its overhead during the prolonged struggle for workers’ rights despite not being a registered workers union.
It mandates that the leadership of the aggrieved former workers to be present during the disbursed period and that the Labor Ministry, Ministry of Justice and the Bureau of Concession will provide compliance monitoring to the process.
It further ordered that this amount shall be disbursed based on the list of names submitted to the Ministry of Labor by the leadership of the aggrieved former workers; noting that the attitude of blocking the rail because of pending grievances between management and workers is unacceptable as it can result to damage of property, juries, death and/or economic sabotage. Accordingly, government declared that it will not tolerate any further act.
It is yet to be seen whether ArcelorMittal will go ahead to give credence to the latest ruling as similar mandates were given, even at the level of the Legislature, but the company played deaf ears.
Meanwhile, some aggrieved spoken to, for their reactions, lauded former Pro Temp Findley for putting pressure on the company by way of the court and they believe that ArcelorMittal will abide given the new agreement with the Liberian government as both parties won’t envisage any hindrance.
At the same time huge developments are starting to erupt within the government and Mittal’s circle since the Findley’s lawsuit: Grand Bassa County received over 700K County Social Development Funds, Mittal sent scores of young people for scholarship abroad amongst others.
ArcelorMittal is known for falling in trouble with workers as in 2018 normal mining activities at the mine in Yekepa went to a standstill for the second time in less than 10 days, after miners abandoned their equipment, when their meeting with the Ministry of Labor (MOL) and the company earlier that day did not end to the workers’ satisfaction.
Leaders of the workers and ArcelorMittal met with MoL authorities to discuss issues appertaining to their demands, including work security, cancellation of “zero week”, restoration of leave with benefits, among others.
They were demanding the company to remove what was termed as “zero week” from their work arrangement; improved feeding at work, as well as the provision of good housing facilities and good health care.
For zero week, they complained that, some weeks they would work for 12 hours, but the management would only pay 8 hours without overtime pay.
“They are giving US$0.50 a day as lunch, but we would not receive the money sometimes for three months,” said one of the caterpillar operators, who did want to be named. “We are supposed to work for 8 hours a day, but if you work for 12 hours, the balance four hours will not be paid and there is no paid leave, no school, no better housing or health care facilities,” said another worker.
“How can we work in our country under such a suppressed condition? If you are unfortunate to begin work from Wednesday, then you fall in zero week, meaning, you will not be marked,” the worker said.