SANNIQUELLIE, Nimba – After hundreds of redundant workers of mining giant ArcelorMittal began protesting in Nimba and Bong regarding unsettled arrears or re-employment promises, Nimba’s Senator Prince Yormie Johnson has expressed support for the striking workers. He blames the company for the protests, claiming that the company has disrespected Liberian laws.
On Friday, February 14, scores of the company’s workers blocked the railroad in Sanniquellie, which is used to transport iron ore to Buchanan’s port in Sanniquellie. They demanded that the company address their issues. But the day-long protest was later abandoned following the intervention of county officials, including Nimba’s assistant superintendent for development, Railey Myers. The redundant workers have, however, vowed not to relent in their public actions until county authorities or the company addresses their plight.
Despite numerous guilty findings handed down against the company by several government functionaries, including the Labor Ministry, the company has deliberately refused to address the plight of workers, Johnson said during an interview on a local radio station on February 17.
“When the government that we all are under, using the rule of law, ruled that ArcelorMittal is guilty, but they are refusing the government’s order, what alternative are they leaving with the redundant workers?” he said. “What is Mittal Steel calling for? Are they calling for peace or violence?”
He continued, “We are not violent people. The workers peacefully took the railroad; they are crying. That’s the way they can cry through peaceful protest to claim attention, so ArcelorMittal should pay those people. What these workers are doing is their legitimate right; if you violate their right, what alternative are you leaving them with? Violence! We call upon them not to be violent, but any attempt by police to use force to disburse our people who are always fighting for their legitimate right through peaceful means – it will be condemnable. It will be unacceptable and we will not tolerate it. These are poor people who need to feed their families. A hungry man is an angry man and so ArcelorMittal should pay the children.”
The senator wants the Ministries of Labor and Justice to advise the company of its wrongdoing and compel it to address the plight of the workers in order to avoid constant blockades and disruptions to the peace.
Johnson, the self-proclaimed godfather of Nimba, also noted that the redundant workers are peace-loving people who are proud that ArcelorMittal is working in their county, adding that if they were violent, they would have damaged the rail tracks as a more radical action.
But the workers have been patient for too long, the senator said.
In 2015 and 2016, ArcelorMittal laid off over 400 workers, citing a decline in the prices of iron ore on the world market and the impact of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, which negatively affected its operations. Since then, all efforts to have the workers reinstated have failed.
In 2018, the House of Representatives requested the company to “unconditionally” reinstate all workers made redundant by the crisis in light of improvements in iron ore prices, and consistent with its concessional obligations. But the workers continue to allege that the company has refused to act upon the House’s mandate and that it already hired new workers to replace them.
The company has denied any wrongdoing and declined to comment on personnel matters.
But despite his anger, Sen. Johnson was also quick to appeal to the company to meet the demands of workers. He also called on the government to enforce its decisions.
“The strongest arm of the government is the Labor Ministry; the powerful arm of the government is the Justice Ministry, and one of the strategic arms of the government is the Internal Affairs Ministry that controls the country,” he said. “All these ministries say the company is wrong and so it must abide by their mandate.”
Johnson further blamed ArcelorMittal for a “don’t care” attitude toward Yekepa, which hosts the company’s mining operations. He said Yekepa used to be a tourist attraction during the days of ArcelorMittal’s predecessor, LAMCO. Now, he said it is now home to snakes and other crawling creatures because the British-Indian mining giant does not support cleaning and caring for the city.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah