HARBEL, Margibi – After Firestone Liberia’s president, Edmundo Garcia testified to lawmakers that workers at the plantation were making US$8.36 per day, union leaders and other employees are saying that Garcia lied to lawmakers.
Recently, the Joint Committee on Concession and Agriculture summoned the management of Firestone Liberia to answer to allegations of bad labor practices, poor housing facilities, and other conditions that workers face on the plantation.
Appearing before lawmakers, Garcia denied the allegation, noting that though the company is challenged, it is doing everything to meet up with its obligation to workers. Garcia attributed most of the company’s failure to meet its obligations to its rigorous replanting exercise and the global economic crisis.
It was Garcia’s comments on the issue of salary that angered Firestone’s workers. The company’s president told lawmakers that the minimum wage of workers on the farm is US$8.36. His pronouncement has sparked a lot of debates on the plantation as most workers have termed Garcia’s statement as untrue.
Rodennick Gbongolee, an employee of Firestone, said the minimum wage of workers on the farm is US$5.50 and not US$8.36 as Garcia said.
“What the president said at the legislature is far from the reality. I can display several payslips of workers that carry a daily wage of US$5.50,” Gbongolee added.
Harris Kerkula, president of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia, said he was surprised to hear the statement from the president of Firestone.
“I think this is a serious concern that needs a further clarification from the president of Firestone Liberia,” he said. Kerkula said the workers of Firestone are curious to know the actual story of employee wages since the president spoke to the legislature.
Another person who has come hard on the president of Firestone is Edwin B. Cisco, a former secretary general of the Firestone Agriculture Workers Union, now secretary general of the Agricultural Agro-Processing and Industrial Workers Union of Liberia.
Cisco said he wants Garcia to provide documents that prove that workers on the farm are taking US$8.36.
“As far as we are concerned, the last negotiation that we were involved with has US$5.50. This revelation is not from an ordinary source but the first person at the level of Firestone Liberia. That is why we are demanding him to do so,” he added.
Cisco said even if overtime wages were considered for workers, they won’t still make that amount.
Cisco said in 2011, during the Firestone Liberia renegotiated agreement, the company committed to building over 2,000 new housing units across the plantation for workers. However, he said homes being constructed had no indoor bathrooms, prompting workers to come out at night to use the toilets.
Godma Tokpah, the wife of a rubber tapper, said she hardly uses the external bathrooms because they are poorly sanitized. She said most of the doors at the bathroom are not functioning and the company has not reconditioned them.
“I don’t understand why the company will build new housing units and don’t add a bathroom to the apartment in this modern time. Our husbands are not slaves. Without them, the company cannot exist,” Tokpah added.
Featured photo by Bill E. Diggs/Solidarity Center