Illegal Strike at ArcelorMittal Undermines Business Development & Investment: Government Must Act

MONROVIA: The Labor court of Liberia over the weekend ordered an immediate end to what is now becoming a week of strike by the Workers Union of Liberia at the premises of the  only post war foreign direct investment- ArcelorMittal Liberia.

The decision by the court came as employees engaged in industrial action, stalling the company’s production and operations in both locations, posing a risk to our employees in the early morning hours of Wednesday May 10, 2023, in Yekepa and Buchanan respectively.

At Yekepa, the employees deliberately seized vehicles, drove heavy duty machines through residential areas and took to themselves other properties of the company in contempt of a May 14, 2023 directive from the Ministry of Labor, which called for an immediate end to the strike.

Despite several attempts by the company for the workers to return to work so as to create room for dialogue, the Workers Union of ArcelorMittal is still hesitant, rejecting all possible means to negotiate.

But as the Union’s members continued their strike, industrial pundits thought that by now, the government would make a strong statement urging the workers to abide by the order of the Labor Court as the only legal authority responsible to make determination into labor issues that come before the judiciary.

To date, however, the Ministry of Information is yet to issue a single statement on the embarrassing situation at the concession site, least to mention the fact that none of the Legislative Caucuses in the three counties hosting ArcelorMittal have raised concern.

The government at its highest level cannot be pretentious about the blatant refusal of union to negotiate, industrialists hold that this is inconsistent with the processes laid out within the decent work law of Liberia, whereas from the beginning of the strike, “members of the Union forcibly and without authorization confiscated and removed large earthmoving machines (Automated Dump Trucks) from the AML Mines and relocated them to the Township of Yekepa”.

Of course, Industrialists following the incident indicated, many union leaders around the world today have never gone to the table without forcing a demand for wage increment, another said, adding that since ArcelorMittal’s modern era of concessions began in Liberia, they have seen two decades of “give-in”, punctuated with gains here and there that benefits the workers not to mention the dozens of community development initiatives.

However, employers’ demands wage increment and flexible work rules that could make just common sense everywhere, not that when a union takes the law into its hands, the responsibility falls on the government to ensure that law becomes the law.

While it is the right of every group of people to express themselves freely and democratically through protest, an AML industrialist who begged for anonymity maintained, it must be noted that the manner and form in which the AML Workers Union has handled this strike is dangerous and could escalate further if care is not taken, she maintained.

She noted, “We are urging the government intervention, as reported earlier, into the ongoing illegal strike by the workers as it does not only project a negative image of the business environment in Liberia, but it also scares away foreign investors.

Another analyst who spoke on the issue says the strike raises questions about the Government’s professed commitment to creating a favorable business environment and ensuring the protection of the interest and assets of investors, especially given the absolute disrespect of constituted authorities by the AML workers’ union.

Meanwhile, the company has said it is aware of the concerns expressed by the employees and is willing to listen and negotiate.

“In a country with absolute poor economic activities exacerbated by the global winds from the war on Ukraine, high global inflation, and depressed demand for goods and services, we cannot make-believe like all is well and ignore ArcelorMittal’s contributions to the government’s budget,” the company noted.

In 2022 alone, we understand how thirty-nine mining companies reported a total of US$45,243,496 in tax revenues across four agencies of government, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) Report

Of the total amount collected in tax revenues from the mining sector, 4 companies (ArcelorMittal, Bea Mountain, MNG Goal, and Hummingbird Resources) accounted for US$41,726,305 or 92.2% of total sector revenues, the LEITI Report noted.

The reported pointed out further that ArcelorMittal alone contributed a whopping $30,350,460 to the Liberia Revenue Authority and an additional $661, 361, totaling 30,966,820.00

This amount paid by AML accounts for 47% of total revenue contributed by the extractive sector in which mining alone reported 68 distinct revenue streams for FY 2019/2020.

This strike at the AML facilities will lessen production, as well as result in the company losing and not meeting its planned targets, which may result to employees losing their remuneration, an insider intimated.

It is said that this could affect the government’s income generation capacity in an election year at least, stating, “we forget how crucial ArcelorMittal’s royalties, taxes and contributions are to our socio-economic recovery process.”

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