HARBEL, Margibi â€“ Firestone workers have agreed to end their protest for higher wages following an intervention from the Ministries of Justice and Labour, and the Margibi County Legislative Caucus.
At a meeting on Thursday, August 9 with the government representatives, the workers agreed to return to work, in hopes that their concerns be addressed within two weeks. All parties agreed to form a committee that would meet with Pres. George Weah, whose attention has also been drawn to ongoing protest on the plantation.
The workersâ€™ protest was triggered by recent statements made to lawmakers by the managing director of Firestone Liberia. During Ed Garciaâ€™s appearance before the House of Representatives, he told that body that workers at the concession take home an average wage of US$8.36.
â€œAs far as tappersâ€™ wages are concerned, of course, we pay the minimum wage,â€ Garcia told lawmakers. â€œIn fact, the average earnings of our tappers â€“ not including benefits and rice â€“ they earn an average of US$8.36 per day. Our highest earning tappers earn US$12.82 per day.â€
Many workers misunderstood Garciaâ€™s statement and contended that they were being underpaid by the company, even though the minimum wage for skilled laborers is US$5.50. Garcia later appeared on local radio stations to inform workers that his statement at the legislature was misconstrued by the public.
Besides demanding that the company pay them US$8.36 as their daily minimum wage, the workers also called for the company to fulfill its promise to restructure workersâ€™ salaries to avoid a large disparity in salary structure.
Workers noted, for example, that estate superintendentsâ€™ salaries were increased from US$400 to US$1,100 while the tappers at the bottom end of the spectrum were left out as the companyâ€™s management said there were no funds to do so.
The workers also contended that some departments were given increments while others were left out.
They said if their demands are not met within two weeks, they will resume their protest.
Justice Minister Musa Dean praised the workers for finding a peaceful remedy to the situation on the rubber plantation.
â€œFor the record, let me recount that you agreed to end this strike action, return to work, and designate a committee that will meet the president,â€ Dean said, urging the workers to always maintain a good relationship with the companyâ€™s management, even amid differences.
â€œDonâ€™t see the management as your enemy. See management as a partner of workers in making the company a better place for all,â€ he said.
Labour Minister Moses Kollie also assured the workers that he would work with the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court to fast-track legal arguments that have prevented the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia from properly serving workers. The unionâ€™s leaders were taken to court by some workers who contended that they had overstayed their terms and that they were mismanaging the union.
A hearing was held, as mandated by the court, and the Ministry of Labour has told the union to conduct elections.
â€œThe day of any company saying the government is in their pocket is over. This government will not take lightly labor issues in this country,â€ Kollie said.
Margibiâ€™s second district representative, Ivar Kokulo Jones, thanked the justice and labour ministers for their tireless intervention in the workers’ crisis.
He called on the workers to go back to work and count on them as they meet the president of Liberia.
â€œBe assured that the president means well for the workforce of Liberia and that your concerns will positively be looked into,â€ Jones added.
Other authorities of Margibi who were present at yesterday meeting included Rep. Tiberlrosa Tarponweh of the first district, Rep. Ellen Attoh of the third district, and Superintendent Jerry Varney.
Featured photo by Jefferson Daryoue