12 July, 2010
Labour, management, and the Liberian government celebrated the signing on 28 June of the second collective agreement between ICEM-affiliated Firestone Agricultural Workers’ Union (FAWUL) and Firestone Rubber Plantation. Some 4,500 workers and their families will again benefit when the two-year contract takes effect in December 2010.
The ever-evolving labour-management relationship between FAWUL and Firestone is fast becoming a showcase in modern industrial relations for the administration of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Labour Minister Taiworn Gongloe stated at the celebration that the social relationship “has broken from the past,” and thanks to enlightened leadership coming from the President, the rights of workers and the interests of the company both are now guaranteed. Added Firestone Managing Director Charles Stuart, “What we're celebrating here is the result of management and employees working in a peaceful and respectful manner. Without you we are nothing and together, anything can happen.”
It was only a short three years ago that FAWUL was fighting the last vestiges of an illegitimate yellow union that had been propped up by Firestone management for decades. Following free and open elections, and an ambitious years-long union-building project by the US-based United Steelworkers (USW), FAWUL won union certification in 2007. (See ICEM reports here and here.)
A year later, on 27 July, FAWUL won its first collective agreement, giving workers a 24% pay increase backdated 19 months, reducing a quota system on tapping natural rubber from trees, and granting new schools and free tuition for the sons and daughters of workers.
This second contract goes further: a 3.5% wage increase, the construction of more schools and school transportation, and perhaps the most important gain, a mechanized transport system to haul the rubber latex to weigh stations. For decades, workers had to haul 150-pound buckets of rubber sometimes miles on their shoulders to the stations.
FAWUL Secretary-General Edwin Cisco said the months long bargaining was hard and arduous, but that a “new day of social dialogue between management and workers has begun and the days of confrontation and agitation are over.”
“This is a major success story in so many ways,” stated ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda, “and we should never lose sight of the fact that the Steelworkers Union of America did the hard and difficult work up front to make it happen. We commend the workers, FAWUL leadership, and Firestone Rubber management, and see a long, productive, and precedent-setting relationship unfolding inside Liberia.”