BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – In an effort to strengthen the capacity of workers officials in the agricultural and industrial sectors, the Agriculture Agro-Processing and Industrial Workers Union of Liberia begun a three-day workshop in Buchanan, Grand Bassa.
The training began on Monday and is being sponsored by the USAID and the United Steel Workers and Solidarity Center.
AAIWUL’s secretary general, Edwin Cisco, said the training will sharpen the skills of union officials to understand their roles in maintaining peace between the workforce and concessionaires across the country.
Cisco said participants of the training were drawn from Golden Veroleum and Atlantic Resource Company in Sinoe, the forestry sector in Maryland, Grand Kru, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, and Gbarpolu.
“We want to acknowledge that the agriculture sector is the biggest employer outside of government in Liberia, but what we found out is that the sector is plagued [with] poverty wages, inadequate facility, as well as occupational health and safety issues,” he told The Bush Chicken in an interview.
“Our intention is to ensure that we build the power of the union to be able to engage the respective multi-national companies that they are associated with so that they [can] raise the standard of living for their workers.”
He said the training is also highlighting issues surrounding strategies for union leaders to handle grievances at the workplace. According to him, dealing with such in the past posed serious challenges to AAIWUL’s interventions.
By ensuring that workers know their rights and the mechanisms for handling grievances at the workplace, he said working environments would be more peaceful.
Cisco also added: “Occupational health and safety have been a major problem in the agricultural sector, and we want to ensure that workers in the oil palm industry, as well as the rubber and forestry sectors, know the basics about occupational health and safety and how to report it to maintain safety in the work environment.”
He said union officials would also be taken through basic trade union methodology, democracy in trade union leadership, and strategies for entering collective bargaining agreements.
Also speaking to The Bush Chicken was the director for strategic campaign for the United Steel Workers in North America, Mark Zelinski, who said the workshop was a major effort by the union to ensure that workers and their management were peacefully coexisting.
According to Zelinski, the United Steel Workers union first came to Liberia in 2005 to help workers of Firestone establish a legitimate union through which they could express their grievances and bargain with their management.
“We saw that workers of Firestone were not happy with the conditions. They did not have a real union to represent them, and they demanded a real union,” he said.
“Despite all of the obstacles that Firestone’s management put in their way, by organizing and by coming together for collective action, they were able to overcome every obstacle in their way.”
He noted that by coming together and establishing a union, Firestone workers have seen their lives improved through the construction of better housing facilities, provision of electricity at most homes, and a guarantee of quality education for workers’ children.
He also called on members of AAIWUL to remain unified to provide better incentives and working environment for their employees.
AAIWUL is a national workers union that comprises six local unions, representing more than 10,000 workers.
Featured photo by Sampson David