HARBEL, Firestone – Employees and retirees of Firestone say they are worried by the company’s recent decision to transfer pension responsibilities to the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation, commonly known as NASSCORP.
In a communication from the director of human and social services, Winleta Aynn Henries, the company said it is taking the decision to keep with the recently passed Decent Work Act.
The release noted that there would be changes to its current pension program. For one, all employees who retire after November 1, 2016 will receive their pension directly from NASSCORP, and no longer from Firestone.
It also stressed that NASSCORP would pay pension to persons who have reached age 60 and are no longer employed, or reached 65 regardless of whether they are employed or not and made at least 100 monthly contributions to NASSCORP.
Something employees and retirees find troubling is the section of the release that states that if an employee retires earlier than age 60 and has already made 100 contributions to NASSCORP, the social security organization would not start pension payments until the employee reaches the age of 60.
In said case, Harry Kerkula, president of the Firestone Workers Union, said it was inhumane for the company to proceed in such direction.
Kerkula says, “This is telling us that, if an employee is retired at age 50 and is upright with at least 100 monthly contributions to NASSCORP, that employee has to wait for a period of ten years, at which time he will be 60 years old before receiving his pension benefits.”
The FAWUL president said he sees no reason why the company would want to change an age old procedure that workers of the farm have become accustomed to over the years.
He said the company also breached the Collect Bargaining Agreement as its management never held a discussion with the leadership of the worker’s union before making the decision.
Kerkula said since the publication, there has been a public outcry from workers, who have called on the union to resist the change.
“I am shocked,” Kerkula said. “This news is not ordinary. If it is not handled with care, there might be problems on the farm.”
The recent memo is attracting attention beyond Harbel, where Firestone is located. The Liberian National Police recently held a conference with the union’s leadership to confirm the issues unfolding at Firestone.
According to Kerkula, the leadership was invited by Inspector General Gregory Coleman and his deputies to determine whether they were aware of any planned protest on the farm. They told the gathering that they had no knowledge of such news.
Flahn Nauhn, a retiree of Firestone, said the issue of delayed payment of pension is not the only issue of concern. He feared that NASSCORP is not yet mature enough to handle retirees’ benefits.
“NASSCORP is a problem by itself, I’m aged and I don’t have the strength anymore to follow any long process to get my benefits from a company I have worked for all through my life,” Nauhn said.
“What if an employee is retired due to poor health? It is obvious that he might not receive pension benefit until his death,” Nauhn added.
Firestone’s communication did not specify the specific provision in the Decent Work Act that called for these changes by management. Several attempts were made to Firestone to identify the provision of the act that necessitated the changes but the company’s management referred to original communication.
A Bush Chicken review of the act did not reveal any requirements of employers to turn over their pension programs to NASSCORP.
Featured photo by Jefferson Daryoue