GBARNGA, Bong – Turkish mining company MNG Gold has laid off about 250 of its employees.
The company, which operates in Kokoyah, in Bong’s first district, has also terminated the contracts of hundreds of casual laborers, citing two major reasons for laying off the employees: a change in its mining operations and economic constraints.
The company is closing its open pit or open surface mines in Kokoyah and is now preparing to begin underground mining in the area.
MNG Gold’s management says the decision is meant to reduce its workforce to accommodate skills relevant to underground mining.
“We have had 360 employees here. Now we are closing the open-pit mining after five years. And so we entered an agreement with the United Workers Union of Liberia to lay off 250 of our employees,” Eugene Kollie, the company’s government relations manager recently told reporters in an interview in Bong.
The terminated employees are were paid their wages and were promised that they could be considered for hiring if the need arises for the company to hire additional staff when full-scale underground mining kicks off.
The head of the Bong County chapter of the United Workers Union of Liberia, Anthony Sammy, says the union is working with the company to ensure that those who are being laid off get their fair wages.
“We are represented on the committee doing the redundancy along with the labor commissioner in Bong and someone from the national labor office. We are making sure that all our workers get their just benefits before leaving,” Sammy told The Bush Chicken in an interview.
Asked about the union’s stance on the loss of jobs amid a challenging economy, Sammy said his union had little or no control of the situation, adding that even the workers are aware that the company is challenged, considering the company’s preparation for its next phase of mining.
“The economic situation is not only affecting us as employees – it is also affecting the company. It is from the sale of the gold that they pay us, but the company is not mining now. We understand it,” said Sammy, who is a heavy-duty driver at MNG Gold.
The redundancy, however, did not affect him.
Prior to the commencement of the layoff exercises, MNG Gold and the leadership of the United Workers Union of Liberia signed a memorandum of understanding giving the company the go-ahead to carry out the act.
The MoU was drafted on July 27, 2020 and formally signed on August 1, 2020, while the redundancy kicked off on August 15.
Some civil society actors and ordinary citizens have been raising eyebrows about the operations of the company in Kokoyah and its decision to lay off so many workers.
Jesse Cole, the lead campaigner of Delta Human Rights Foundation, a local human rights group in Bong, is working with Aaron Juaquellie, the acting executive director of the Foundation for International Dignity, to engage the affected communities of MNG Gold’s operations with awareness on the Land Rights Law.
“You have a mining company that has not provided any MDA [mineral development agreement] that has a concession map. But prevents citizens who have lived in the districts for many years from even going at some of their traditional areas,” Cole wrote on the Facebook page of his organization.
He noted that it was completely mindboggling for a concession company to be digging 15.2km underground for gold without Free Prior Information Consent of the citizens, as described by the Land Rights Act of 2018.
While the government has rights over mineral resources like gold and diamond, in the Land Rights Act, rights to natural resources on the surface of the land is provided to customary landholders, which are the community dwellers, Cole noted.
Meanwhile, Bong’s Sen. Henrique Tokpa has written the Senate to cite the company’s managers to appear before the legislative body to provide more clarity on the layoffs.
His letter noted that “our people are going through untold sufferings from both the current economic difficulties and the Coronavirus pandemic, which is a global health situation.” In his August 20 letter, Tokpa said it was “inconceivable, unthinkable, and ridiculous” for the company to lay off 250 of its employees without notices to the leadership of Bong or the national government.
The Senate has not yet acted on the letter.
Featured photo courtesy of MNG Gold Liberia