HARBEL, Margibi – The Sixth Judicial Circuit Court has mandated the leadership of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia to immediately hold elections following several delays.
A group of workers had questioned the legitimacy of elections held on the farm, claiming that the Decent Work Act was violated. The group, known as the Concerned Due Payers, also said unless the leadership adhered to their demands and held the normal leadership election, they would not participate in a “representative election” called for by union leaders.
The aggrieved workers also argued that the FAWUL leadership wrongly proceeded in entering a merger to form the Agricultural Agro-Processing and Industrial Workers Union of Liberia.
In a Bush Chicken interview conducted in Harbel in May when the stay order was first placed on the elections, the 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 workplace election as is being carried out by this leadership,” Rodennick 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 bargaining agent.
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 or 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 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, 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.
Meanwhile, the court has lifted the hold on the union’s account and mandated the union leadership to begin preparations for the election.
FAWUL due payers are expected to go to the polls on September 4, 2018, to elect workers’ representatives of the various departments on the farm.
Meanwhile, Harris Kerkula, president of FAWUL has welcomed the court’s decision; stressing it is a dawn of a new day in the history of FAWUL.
Gbongolee says he will speak with the media after a planned meeting with the Ministry of Labour.
Featured photo by Jefferson Daryoue