HARBEL, Margibi – Amid a series of complaints from a group calling itself the Concerned Due Payers of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia, the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court for Montserrado has placed a temporary stay order on the planned workplace elections of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia.
The court has ordered the leadership of FAWUL, the president, and the secretary general of the Agricultural, Agro-Processing and Industrial Workers Union of Liberia, and the Ministry of Labor, to also cease all activities leading to the workplace election until otherwise ordered by the court.
In a Bush Chicken interview in Harbel, Rodennick Gbongolee, head of the group filing the complaint, accused the current leadership of FAWUL of wrongly proceeding with the issues of elections on the rubber plantation.
“Nowhere in the constitution of FAWUL gives [it the] right for the conduct of a leadership election as is being carried out by this leadership,” Gbongolee said.
“Until a leadership election is conducted, we the Concerned Due Payers will not partake in any bogus arrangement that will represent workers on the farm.”
Gbongolee, who was elected along with the current leaders of FAWUL, is undergoing an indefinite suspension. Many have attributed his suspension to his strong arguments and disagreement with the leaders of the workers union.
He accused the leadership of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of dissolving the union and secretly choosing the umbrella union, Agricultural Agro-Processing and Industrial Workers Union of Liberia, as their so bargaining agent.
“Any issue that has to do with the dissolution of FAWUL must be done by a referendum and not few group of individuals who have perpetuated themselves as leaders deciding the fate of all workers,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Harris Kerkula, president of FAWUL, refuted all of the claims made by Gbongolee; noting that the elections are in line with the Decent Work Act and not the constitution of FAWUL, as had been done in the past.
“The Decent Work Act, which was approved and signed into handbill on June 26, 2015 says all plant/management unions in the Republic of Liberia will cease to operate after their leadership tenure and pave the way for a registered trade union to be the exclusive bargaining agent if so desire in keeping with the Decent Work Act of 2015,” he added.
The FAWUL president added that the decision of the union to affiliate with the larger union, AAIWUL, was not unilateral but a decision of the executive board, which is the highest decision-making body and consists of shop stewards representing various departments on the Firestone Plantation.
Since merging with two other unions to create Liberia’s largest union, AAIWUL, there have been many controversies, as FAWUL’s leaders have attempted to back out of the merger, largely after the leaders realized that they would individually lose many of the previous benefits they received.
A letter from the Ministry of Labor, signed by Emmett M. Crayton, assistant minister for trade union affairs, noted the need for a union’s management whose tenure have expired, as in the case of the FAWUL officers, to affiliate with a national union and that the national union will be the sole bargaining agent of that plant union.
In another communication sent to the management of Firestone Liberia, the Ministry of Labor presented AAIWUL as the exclusive bargaining agent of FAWUL authorized by the Decent Work Act.
In the communication, the ministry endorsed the effort of FAWUL’s leaders to fulfill the law. The letter further called on the management of Firestone to provide AAIWUL with those rights and privileges in keeping with the Decent Work Act.
Featured photo by Jefferson Daryoue