As Firestone Trims Staff, Management and Workers’ Union Deny a Mass Layoff

HARBEL, Margibi – The management of Firestone Liberia and its workers’ union have both denied radio reports of an ongoing mass layoff of employees. They acknowledge that only a few employees been laid off to adjust to business needs.

The Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia’s President Harris Kerkula said that the company was transferring workers from different sections and departments to others, with some necessary reductions in manpower in a few departments.

Employees have recently been calling FAWUL’s radio station’s “Around Firestone” talk show, accusing the company of trimming its workforce and providing laid off employees with severance packages.

Kerkula said in a Bush Chicken interview that there was no mass layoff of employees, as was reported by some workers on the union’s radio station.

He said the situation was normal and that the reports were due to a communication gap between the management and the workers.

The Bush Chicken Harris Kerkula President of FAWUL

Harris Kerkula, President of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia. Photo credit: Gbatemah Senah

According to Kerkula, the Firestone’s management has not violated any provision of the current collective bargaining agreement that gives the company the right to hire and fire.

“Normally, it is management’s responsibility to disseminate the information to the union on what it intends to do, but this was not done,” Kerkula said.

He said the union is already investigating complaints of over twenty employees who were reported laid off in the last three months.

Kerkula expressed fear that his leadership would be criticized if the union does not take steps in favor of the affected workers that have notified the union.

“For me what makes it alarming is that this a very new leadership that just took over the workers union and we see it as a threat to our leadership if we just sit and see it going. will cause a problem for us – our detractors would criticize us,” he said.

Carlos Smith, the manager of Firestone’s Government and External Affairs unit, told The Bush Chicken that the current situation in the company has always existed.

Smith said that Firestone, like any other business or labor entity, has typically hired and reduced staff, given the business needs.

Smith said it was normal for Firestone to take lawful decisions that suit its operations. He said in addition to transfers; some employees were being retired, some on voluntary layoff with severance packages, while others were being dismissed for policy violations.

Smith said that the company was in a transition and cutting down costs due to losses it has experienced over the past years. According to him, the rubber company has accrued a loss of over $70 million USD between 2012 and 2014, and that Firestone projects continued losses as a result of over-spending and a decline in business.

He also said some of the employees in the Education Department are being laid off as a result of low enrollment of students due to Ebola. In other situations of reduction in staff, he declined to discuss further.

Two employees who were terminated spoke to The Bush Chicken on the condition of anonymity for fear of undermining their complaints to the workers’ union.

The former employees have described the situation as frustrating. According to them, their service term with the company does not allow them more benefits.

One of them, a teacher at the company’s senior high school, wondered about the selection process.

“I am even confused on how they did the selection for [termination]. [I have greater seniority] than some of those who were not affected and also less than some others,” he said.

“I really encourage the company to reconsider its decision,” he said. According to him, he was always a committed staff member at the company’s senior high school.

The other, a factory worker, said he had never expected to be terminated.

Featured image courtesy of Solidarity Center/Bill E. Diggs

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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