SANNIQUELLIE, Nimba – Workers laid off by mining giant ArcelorMittal have entered their third day of peaceful protest against the company for its reported failure to provide them with benefits they say they are due.
The protesters have turned down all requests for dialogue. Carrying an empty casket with the words, “AML Pay Our Money or Government Kill Us and Protect ArcelorMittal” on it, the former ArcelorMittal employees say they are prepared to die for their rights, should there be any resistance from the government.
On August 18, they initiated their blockade of the railroad tracks behind the G.W. Harley Hospital in Sanniquellie. The protesters placed sticks and rocks on the track to prevent the company’s locomotives from transporting iron ore from Mount Gangra in its Yekepa Concession Area to the Buchanan Port in Grand Bassa.
A few minutes after the aggrieved workers had gathered, officers from the Police Support Unit and Emergency Response Unit were deployed to monitor the situation. The situation nearly turned chaotic when police forcefully moved in to remove the objects used by the protesters to block the track. The standoff was later settled after police retreated from the scene, realizing that the protest was peaceful.
The protesters’ action has, however, temporarily halted ArcelorMittal’s ability to transport iron ore to the port. It is still unclear how long the protesters are intending to continue blocking the railroad, but their continual blockade of the track could paralyze the operations of ArcelorMittal and cause the company losses.
Kingston Nyandibo, who represents the laid-off employees, said the protest will continue for the days and weeks until their plights are addressed by the company.
He noted that their action was triggered by the company’s failure to pay money owed to them, even though the Ministries of Labor and Justice earlier ruled in their favor and demanded that the company provide its former workers with the severance benefits it owes them.
He said his group was unwilling to dialogue with any group or individual, and its members would only leave the railroad if the company pays their just benefits.
“Mittal refused to pay us since we were redundant. We have gone all over to different government ministries and the company was told to pay us but they have refused because they feel [the] government is in their pocket,” Nyandibo said. “We will remain peaceful, but we will not leave this track until we receive our money.”
This is the third protest in recent years staged against ArcelorMittal by laid-off employees demanding their benefits.
A few months ago, the group staged a similar protest but later abandoned their action after interventions from Nimba’s Sen. Prince Y. Johnson; the county’s assistant superintendent for development, Railey Myers; and representatives from the National Council of Chiefs and Elders.
On Thursday, similar efforts by the county’s leaders to end the protest failed, as the protesters said they were not ready to negotiate with anyone. However, many observers are hopeful that the county’s lawmakers, who are expected in Sanniquellie for the county’s council sitting on Friday, will seize the opportunity to appeal to the protesters to leave the railroad.
There has been a series of protests against ArcelorMittal since the commencement of its concession in Nimba, with the most notable being the Zolowee Riot of 2014 that led to the vandalizing of several of the company’s properties.
Many have blamed the constant protests against ArcelorMittal on the company’s reluctance to address issues raised by citizens.
Meanwhile, the mining giant has not made any official statement regarding the ongoing blockage of the railroad by the redundant workers.
Featured photo by Jerry Myers