ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 105 – 111
Apart from the implementation of the law on the right to strike, the vital reforms to labour law promised by the government have not yet materialised. At the end of the year, the Supreme Court recognised the trade union representing the 4,700 employees of the Firestone plantation, despite the management's last-minute attempts to block the recognition.
Trade union rights in law
Serious clashes between labour law and trade union rights: The ILO repeated its request that the government bring its legislation into line with conventions 87 and 98, stressing the seriousness of the following problems:
Employees of state-run enterprises and the civil service cannot form trade unions. Agricultural workers are not allowed to join industrial unions. The government's Labour Practices Review Board has the right to supervise trade union elections.
There are currently no adequate provisions or sanctions to guarantee workers adequate protection against discrimination during recruitment or at work, nor against interference in union affairs by employers and their organisations. Workers in state enterprises do not have collective bargaining rights.
Step towards reforming labour law: At the end of 2006, the Labour Minister promised a major reform of labour legislation. A law adopted in October 2006 that came into force in 2007 annulled Decree 12 of 1980, which had banned strikes.
Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007
Background: The country's infrastructure still needs to be re-built following the civil war. Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is at work and the trial of former president Charles Taylor started in The Hague. A large UN peace-keeping force is still based in the country. The lifting of embargos on wood and diamond exports is expected to re-launch the country's economy.
Repression of a strike at Firestone: On 27 April, the police brutally suppressed a strike picket at the Firestone plantation in Harbel. More than 20 strikers were hospitalised and two of them were seriously wounded. The government and local authorities denied having asked the police to intervene. According to the workers, the request had come from the Firestone management.
Deeply embedded anti-unionism: Since the establishment of a democratic government at the end of 2005, the majority of the 4,700 workers at the Firestone plantation had held various wildcat strikes to demand better working conditions and trade union elections. Firestone is the second-largest rubber plantation in the world and had often been regarded as a "law unto itself", with its own rules and a management-controlled "yellow" union. In the past, workers had died during strikes repressed by the police. But with the support of foreign trade union organisations (AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers, ICEM, etc.), the workers began to stand up to the management despite the intimidation and violence. On 19 April, the Firestone Agriculture Workers Union (FAWU) secured an agreement from the Ministry of Labour that new trade union elections could soon be held.
New anti-union manoeuvres: On 7 July, the elections were easily won by the FAWU. The "house union" and the management of Firestone then started a court case to try to cancel the result of these first free trade union elections. The management also tried hard to thwart the operations of the FAWU, not least by refusing to pass on the union fees that it was continuing to check off from workers' wages. On 21 December, the Supreme Court confirmed the result of the elections. As a result, the Firestone management had to recognise the FAWU as the union representing the workforce.
Police brutality and dismissal of strikers by the management: Exasperated by the management's refusal to recognise the union and begin collective bargaining with the union, the workers launched another strike on 4 December, which was again brutally repressed. On 6 December, several strikers were injured and the following day the police arrested 12 workers, including two FAWU leaders. Several strikers were dismissed by Firestone.
Closure of a trade union radio station: On 14 December, the police raided the offices of Stone FM, a radio station belonging to the FAWU. The radio station was shut down by the police for several hours, with no reason given, though there are strong suspicions that it was owing to the militant nature of the radio station, which the Firestone workers and their families enjoy listening to.
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