HARBEL, Firestone – On Wednesday, April 5, workers of Firestone Liberia unanimously rejected copies of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement entered into by the Management of Firestone and leaders of the workers union.
The workers, who were represented by their various shop stewards or representatives, said there are some articles of the agreement that need to be revisited.
The shop stewards, who angrily spoke during the one-day interaction, said they believe that their leaders did not do much on the negotiation table with Firestone management on improving the lives of workers on the farm. They said the CBA is not a document to overlook, as it is the tool that guides workers on the farm.
On March 6, 2017, workers boycotted the management of Firestone Liberia’s attempt to distribute copies of the CBA on grounds that the document was tampered with by Firestone Liberia. They accused Winleta Aynn Henries, Firestone’s director of human resource and social services, for omitting content in the document.
Packerson P.F Lazell, one of the shop stewards, said at the gathering that in March 2017, the leadership of the union informed shop stewards that there were problems detected in the document that needed to be fixed immediately. He said the leadership assured workers that they would have engaged management in making sure that the right thing was done in the interest of workers on the farm.
Lazell said the union did not do well in negotiating with management during negotiation.
At the gathering, workers union President Harris Kerkula said management was ratifying problems registered by the union and that the changes would take effect in the new document. Kerkula’s statement created an outburst in the hall as angry shop stewards blamed him and his co-officials for compromising the interest of workers.
The workers said they cannot accept a document that is incomplete and does not protect their welfare. They maintained that Firestone management should include all of the terms and conditions raised by the workers so as to maintain industrial harmony.
Responding to the claims by the workers, Kerkula, president of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia, agreed that the shop stewards have every reason to reject the CBA, noting they were earlier informed of problems identified by the leadership as it relates the document.
Kerkula said the union had problems mainly with articles 17, 19, and 39. He said article 17, which concerned retirement, was not clear in the document. He said during the bargaining, management informed the leadership that it would soon transfer pension responsibility to the government.
Kerkula said the union leadership requested that pensioners be given a special monetary package by management upon retirement. He said after serving the company for 25 years and above, it was unfair to simply leave employees without certain compensation.
“Said demand has not been considered by the management in the new agreement,” Kerkula added.
A few months ago, the management of Firestone informed the workforce that it would soon transfer pension benefits to the National Social Security and Welfare Cooperation. Kerkula said Firestone’s previous practice of handling pension benefits had attracted Liberian workers to the farm and any attempt to revert might have a psychological problem on workers.
Article 17 covered housing allowances for workers living outside the concession. Daily wagers receive a monthly allowance of US$15 while salaried workers take US$30 for six months. Kerkula said the new pay grade confuses the issue that has to do with housing. He said management was deducting US$30 from workers who were supposed to pay US$15 monthly for housing.
The union president said after several complaints from workers, the management has yet to ratify errors relating to its pay grade.
Article 39 is focused on the allowances of off-station workers of Firestone, especially workers of Rubber Purchase and officers of the Plant Protection Department. The allowance covers breakfast, lunch, dinner and lodging.
The new CBA says only employees who spend the night on duty will be given dinner. Kerkula said the workers are demanding that they receive their full stipend for breakfast, lunch, and dinner before departure off station.
Featured photo by Jefferson Daryoue