Management and Workers Sign Agreement at ArcelorMittal -Parties describe it “a win- win affairs”

The Management of ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) and its unionized workforce represented by their exclusive bargaining agent – the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) on Saturday, March 12, 2022, in Yekepa, Nimba County, signed a Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) to guide their relationship for the next three years which both parties described as a win-win affairs.

Providing a background to the ceremony, the Head of Organizational Development, AML Madam Rose B. Kingston said that the signing is the climax of five (5) grueling months of negotiations with the UWUL and its Local #4 (ArcelorMittal Liberia Workers Union). She said that the shouts and ferocious arguments on both sides were firm but in good faith, and the signing of the agreement was a big win for both sides noting that “Collective bargaining is about dialogue; it is about finding solutions to real problems in the workplace-problems that affect workers and constraints in meeting targets.”

According to a release from the Ministry of Labor and signed by Joseph K. Nyanibo, Director of Communications,  Madam Kingston noted that through the efforts of both sides, they agreed on many things including but not limited to increase in education allowance for school-going dependents of workers, housing allowance, among others. She said that the negotiations were about moving on, finding solutions that provide a more stable and secure welfare for workers.

In brief remarks at the ceremony, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ArcelorMittal Liberia, Mr. Jozephus H. Coenen said that in AML, the workforce is its most valued asset. He asserted that he is pleased that the company and its unionized workers have negotiated a CBA that is not only built upon the previous four CBAs, but also sets even more perimeters that enhance working relationships and provide improved benefits and amenities to AML workers.

The AML CEO added that the next few years are critical to the Company’s operations in Liberia as it grows and ramps up Phase 2 operations. He said building stronger ties with the communities and stakeholders will be among the Company’s major priorities. “I trust that we will continue to work together to build a business that benefits our communities, our country, our employees, and our investors”, he said.

“I am pleased to be meeting some of you for the first time in my role as CEO as we partner to strengthen our partnership and working relationship as ArcelorMittal Liberia expands its operations.

“Congratulations to the United Workers Union of Liberia and its Local # 4; and the AML for successfully negotiating the 5th CBA since AML began operations in Liberia.” Mr. Coenen

used the occasion to thank the Ministry of Labour, especially the Assistant Minister for Trade Union Affairs and Social Dialogue, Hon. Gonsen-Zeo Mensah, for his “indispensable leadership, support, and guidance that helped the parties to conclude the CBA.

“Congratulations for the several months of intense negotiations that culminated in the 5th CBA between the Management of ArcelorMittal Liberia and its Unionized workers”, he said further.

For his part, the Secretary General of the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) Mr. Dave Seneh thanked the parties that took part in the negotiations that resulted in the signing of the new CBA, describing the process as difficult but rewarding. He said that he hopes that what all they have agreed to will be fully implemented in the interest of industrial peace and harmony unlike in the past.

Sneh also  informed workers of the company that they have made some gains during the CBA negotiation in the areas of, Variable Bonus, education allowance, Housing allowance, Water supplies, Maternity Leave, medical Insurance, shift, and hazard Allowances; and described them as breakthrough for the workers.

In addition, the UWUL Secretary General boasted that the biggest gain made by the union is around the welfare of contractor workers at the company.

“This time we and the management have agreed that definite contractors’ employment status will be regularized (converted to permanent contract). But this will take effect in the first month of 2023. Since AML started operations, they have had contractors and we have been arguing that these people cannot be doing the same work as others and are not benefiting. This time, the Management has agreed and put it to January 2023 because according to them a new budget that will be taking effect in January 2023 will include them”, he said.

Speaking on the issue of salaries increment, Mr. Seneh said “There were no increment in the structure of salaries, because of the grading of employees, but the parties agreed that before the increment of salaries are concluded, the issue of grading should first be handled which will help to address the issue of disparities in salaries of the workers”.

Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Labour, the Assistant Minister for Trade Union Affairs and Social Dialogue, Hon. Gonsan-Zeo Mensah, said that he sees the CBA as a win-win situation because it helps to bring about clarity in the industrial relations between workers and Management.

Speaking of the legal ramifications of CBA in line with Section 39 of the Decent Work Act of Liberia, Assistant Minister Mensah said that when CBAs are signed between workers and managements, they becomes legally binding upon the parties and as such, no one should pay lip-service to the document noting that “Whenever there are violations, the Ministry of Labor will move swiftly and decisively to enforce the portion been violated.”

The Labor official added that the crafters of the Decent Work Act (DWA) which is the Labor Law of Liberia were mindful that there will be industrial disputes, disagreement and above all, there is a need to promote and protect rights of management and workers. As consistent with the intent of the DWA which is to maintain peace and harmony in the workplaces, the crafters saw it fit that there should be a CBA aimed at avoiding disputes and by doing so cement relations between workers and management.

He reminded both parties about the importance of a CBA saying “It is not a piece of document discussed, signed and to be put aside. It is a working document that should be fully implemented by the parties.”

He said that the objectives of the CBA are to establish a legal framework that promotes good faith bargain and collective agreement as the process for negotiating and determining working conditions. It enables employers and workers to exercise their fundamental rights to bargain collectively and engage in strike and lockout in an orderly manner.

He acknowledged the efforts of the stakeholders that brought the CBA to fruition despite their differences, noting the process which started in October of 2021 was very necessary because it brings to the table many of those differences to harmonize them.

“For us as the regulators of the labor sector, we could not take any credits for exercising our duties, roles and responsibilities, because we were appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia to ensure that peace and harmony are promoted and maintained within workplaces in Liberia. Therefore, the credit goes to the negotiation teams of both parties” he concluded.

The CBA which is the 5th between the workers and their management since the company started operations in Liberia runs from 2021 to 2024 respectively.

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