RIA-Workers Crisis Goes To Labor Ministry

The Ministry of Labor has intervened into the recent crisis that erupted at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) to the extent that aggrieved workers held hostage a foreign aircraft named AWA until the Minister of State for President Affairs, Nathaniel McGill arrived on the scene before it departed.    

Minister McGill later turned the matter over to the Ministry of Labor to take seize and resolve it amicably as part of its responsibility to handle such matters.

During the Ministry’s intervention, separate meetings with the RIA management and the workers union were held.

During these meetings, the Labor Minister disclosed that the Ministry established that there were issues of lack of adequate information dissemination to the workers that led to speculation as its relates to the security of their employment with the RIA in view of coming to effect a contract for the outsourcing of some departments at the RIA.

Also, at a meeting with the management, it was agreed that certain portion of the outsourcing contract needed to be augmented and clarified to protect the interest of the workers.

“The contract provides that certain category of employees will be turned over to an operator for a period of twelve (12) months beginning January 2022. After that period, the operator will have the sole responsibility to decide who they one to retain and who they are not interested in maintaining. Those who they decide to retain will enter full employment. Those who they decline will return to the RIA management and they will continue with their employment status. And if it comes to the point where the RIA feels that those services are not needed, they will make the necessary representation for redundancy and that the operator who is a foreign company, will make provision in terms of severance pay in keeping with the Labor Law of Liberia,” Minister Gibson noted.

The Labor Minister further added “What we saw in the contract document was sufficient protection for workers who will not be retained by the operator, while the workers that will be retain by the operator, we saw some gaps. Those gaps bordered on three things: Firstly, back pay for all workers at RIA has accumulated various months. That was not addressed in the agreement. How do we get it settle?

“Secondly, what was also not cleared in the agreement is that those workers that will be retained by the outsourcing company will be employed at new. What happens to their insurance that they have accrued by working for many years for the RIA? We saw that, that question needed to be clarified.”

He added: “Lastly, we also saw that even with the RIA, because of the economic challenges, some workers had not been able to benefit from leaves and overtimes. We wanted those things to be addressed.”

Minister Gibson then presented the findings on Wednesday, January 5, 2022, from its intervention made into conflict involving RIA management and aggrieved workers, which led to strike actions at the airport.

The occasion was graced by representatives of the RIA management headed by its Acting Managing Director, Mr. Martin J. Hayes and the leadership of the workers union.

Cllr. Gibson said the RIA, like other strategic entities of the country should be treated with cautions when it comes to labor issues in Liberia.

Therefore, he noted: “It is important for unions supervising such entity to understand that their responsibility is higher when it comes to national security and economic concerns to all Liberians,”

Speaking further, Minister Gibson thanked the Minister McGill for his prompt intervention, which brought under control the RIA workers strike action.

Minister Gibson informed the gathering that the RIA management has provided answers to all of those concerns raised by the MOL and met up with requirements set by the Ministry of Labor and communicated to the effect.

In a communication addressed to the Minister of Labor on January 4, 2022 by the management of RIA pertaining to outstanding salaries and benefits of employees of the RIA, who are to be transferred to the ground handling company (NAS), Acting Managing Director Hayes stated: “We wish to make the following commitments:”

That all salary arrears for employees from the affected departments shall be settled by the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) prior to the Operator taking over the ground handling services;

The Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) commits to ensure that pursuant to Article 7.18 of the outsourcing agreement, the employees who may be employed by the Operator shall carry over all accrued pension and insurance benefits whilst in the employ of the RIA; and

That the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) commits to vet and settle all legitimate entitlement accrued by the employees whilst in the employ of the LAA/RIA within six months of the 12 months’ cushion period.”

With such commitment, Minister Gibson then expressed that the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Labor looks forward to the workers returning to work and he congratulated the management of the RIA for its cooperation in ensuring that the issue of the workers is put to rest.

He said his Ministry had taken seized of the RIA and workers union situation for the next 12 months.

In remarks, Acting Managing Director Hayes thanked Minister Gibson for the speedy handling of the matter and reassured local and international partners as well as airlines that Liberia and the RIA remain peaceful.

He promised that what happened few days ago will not be repeated and used the opportunity to say to the international partners and airlines that RIA management is greatly sorry for the embarrassment.

“For the workers union, we are working together and we will remain working with you guys to ensure that our employees’ needs are met.”

For his part, the President of the RIA workers union, Mr. Baryou Wallace said the union takes full responsibility for what occurred and has committed that moving forward, it shall guard against anything that will cause problem or bring the name of the RIA into disrepute.

“We want to assure the management that moving forward this will not happen again. We believe in the process of social dialogue because it is key to maintaining peace and harmony in the workplace. The Union is a friend to the management because we believe that workers/union will never exist without management.”

Mr. Wallace used the occasion to thank the Minister of Labor for his judgment and leadership noting, “We agreed in full to what has been agreed upon and we think that the interest of workers is protected and look forward to the full implementation of what have been agreed on. We will remain engaged as partner to the management and the Ministry of Labor because we have no doubt that this will be carried out efficiently and effectively.”

Several aggrieved workers at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) on Thursday, December 30, 2021 held a departing foreign flight hostage as part of their protest action against a possible redundancy scheme by management.

The aggrieved workers numbering around 200 persons assembled on the runway of the RIA to draw public attention and in the process, they complained of being brutalized by state security guards trying to resist their action.

One of the aggrieved workers, Cyrus Yeanay, complained that a fellow identified as George Logan tore up a jacket belonging to one of the protesters.

According to them, their action was prompted by plan by the RIA management to transfer them to a private company known as National Air Service (NAS) without addressing their huge unpaid wages.

They went on to express fear that transferring them to the private through outsourcing was a clever attempt to terminate their services with the RIA.

“We will not sit in our own country and be treated like foreigners. We want our salaries and benefits because we have families to feed and so we won’t leave the runway until authorities can step,” the aggrieved workers stated.

In the process, the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill arrived on the scene and with his arrival, the flight was allowed to depart Liberia.

Based on Minister McGill’s presence, the aggrieved workers were hurriedly assembled for a meeting at which time the Acting RIA Managing Director, Martin Hayes and other senior management officials were present.

“For the past two months, there have been rumors that the management was about to outsource our department. A meeting was held on November 16, 2021 with Flight Operation, Passengers Services and Ground Equipment or Maintenance. We were informed of the outsourcing as of January 1, 2022 and we were to be sent to NAS,” explained Hinneh Dorbor, spokesman of the aggrieved workers in the presence of Minister McGill.

“We were told to perform well at the NAS training or else those who fail will not be accepted back at the RIA. We are all employees and not mere contractors. We want to know whether it is right under the labor laws to just push us away while management owes us many months in salaries and benefits,” Dorbor stated on behalf of his colleagues.

Having being informed by the human resource department to fill documents to second them to NAS, Hinneh said they proceeded to the workers union to raise alarm about the situation.                    

“What becomes of those who will lose their jobs if NAS rejects them? We want the right thing to be done. We have made sacrifices in the absence of equipment and our technical knowhow has helped this airport greatly, especially during the Ebola and Coronavirus outbreak. We are all doing this for the love of our country and the President,” the spokesman further stated.

“With all these sacrifices we have been making, they call bunch of educated people. Tomorrow, it may be security and fire service departments. Image during our protest, some of the security beat our men,” Dorbor said.   

Upon hearing from the spokesman of the aggrieved workers, Minister McGill accepted their complaints as being legitimate but he frowned on their action of preventing an international flight from leaving the country.

“You know the aircraft rules and so accept the fact that you were holding the flight hostage. What you did was very wrong. This problem is going to be handled but if anyone thinks he was right, I am going to punish them,” Minister McGill declared.

“They (RIA management) cannot just throw you out. It is your right to protest to call public attention but when I called you, you said, you were not coming,” McGill indicated to the workers.

However, he told the workers to remain calm as they have a case that can be handled through dialogue involving all parties to get a clear understanding of the whole process of the NAS takeover.

McGill ordered the aggrieved workers to set up a special committee that will be involved in addressing all of the concerns being raised.

“This must not be intended to put people out of job but we can’t allow this behavior of holding a foreign plane hostage. We want to see NAS plan,” McGill said.

  • Minister McGill mentioned that NAS is not taking over for now as all of its activities are suspended until all the issues are fully addressed.  

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