17 May, 2023Over 1,300 workers at Yekepa mine and Buchanan Grand Bassa went on strike on 10 May over wage increases and salary disparities after wage negotiations deadlocked between ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) and the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL), an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union.
After the deadlock, the union went to the National Labour Court where it was awarded a five per cent wage increase. Management refused to comply with the court ruling and the workers went on strike to push for their demands. The court has urged both parties to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement.
UWUL said it was shocked to find out that two workers employed on the same day and with the same experience and skills were paid different wages. The union says this is against the principle of equal-pay-for-work-of-equal value that it wants the company to implement. UWUL says the management is practising nepotism through the employment of friends and relatives in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.
“We approached the Ministry of Labour for mediation on the stalemate before approaching the courts. Although the Labour Court ruled in our favour, the management is not budging. This is why we are still on strike and will continue the collective job action until the management comes to the negotiating table,”
says Dave Seneh, UWUL general secretary who is coordinating the strike.
“We call on ArcelorMittal to intervene and call upon its management at ArcelorMittal Liberia to resume contact with UWUL which has not been the case in the last week and re-establish a dialogue with the union in good faith, receptive to the fair demands of workers, and willing to implement in full the collective bargaining agreement,”
says Atle Høie, IndustriALL general secretary.
UWUL hopes the strike will be settled by an offer which is acceptable to workers, as what happened when ArcelorMittal South Africa signed a three-year collective agreement with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). In the deal the workers got a 6.5 per cent annual wage increase for three years, increases in allowances, and other benefits. But the South African wage deal, signed on 8 May, came after talks were deadlocked and NUMSA had announced preparations for the “mother of all strikes” at ArcelorMittal.
AML employs 3,000 workers at its iron ore mines at Yekepa and Bong mines and is expanding its mining operations through building processing plants. It also runs a railway, operates a port terminal, and is the largest foreign investor in Liberia with over US$1.7 billion invested in its businesses in the last 15 years.
Photo: Workers parked the trucks as part of the protest