Population: 3,900,000
Capital: Monrovia
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 105

There was blatant interference in a union ballot by one multinational company, while another failed to implement key aspects of a collective agreement. Three workers on a rubber plantation were shot and seriously injured during a strike. The legal framework for trade union activities remains lacking until the labour law is reformed.

Trade union rights in law

Many shortcomings in the labour law exist, although promises of a reform were made by the Labour Minister in 2006. The Constitution guarantees freedom of association, but employees of state-run enterprises and the civil services cannot form trade unions. In addition, the laws on anti-union discrimination are deficient, and do neither award sufficient protection against discrimination during recruitment or at work, nor do they protect unions against employer interference. Finally, the government's Labour Practices Review Board has the right to supervise trade union elections, and workers in state enterprises do not have collective bargaining rights.

Legal strikes are once again on the agenda due to a 2006 law that annulled Decree 12 of 1980, which had banned strikes.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Peace and stability in the country remain extremely fragile according to a 2009 report by the UN mission there. The economy is in ruins, the justice system is weak and land and ethnic disputes persist.

Weak protection of trade union rights in multinational companies: Broadly speaking the government does respect freedom of association, although its record on including the Labour Congress in tripartite forums has been patchy, and it has not managed to prevent big multinational companies from flouting union rights. Labour and human rights activists have expressed particular concern about the seeming impunity of the Firestone Tyre and Rubber Company when it comes to workers' rights violations.

Employer flouts collective agreement: Bridgestone Firestone, which operates the world's second largest rubber plantation, in Harbel, has failed to respect several of the key commitments in a contract signed with its workers' union, the Firestone Agricultural Workers' Union of Liberia (FAWUL). Workers on the plantation have long faced incredibly poor living and working conditions. Firestone rubber tappers live in crowded shacks without running water, electricity or indoor latrines and are required to meet an unreasonably high production quota in order to receive their meagre pay. After a long struggle, workers finally held their first free and fair union election and signed their first contract negotiated by a democratically elected and independent union leadership in August 2008 (see 2009 issue of the Survey).

However, by 2009, Firestone management had not yet implemented many of the important improvements in the new contract. For example, the agreement reduced the size of the production quota, but many workers throughout the plantation report that they are still being forced to produce at the old quota level, which means they must hire subcontractors or use the labour of their family members in order to finish their work and be paid. Firestone has also not fully implemented health and safety improvements in the new contract and has not provided transportation for all of the children on the plantation to access schools as the contract says they should.

Strikers shot: Three strikers were seriously injured on Friday 20 March when the senior senator Laha Lassana of the region opened fire on the employees at the Guthrie rubber plantation in Western Bomi County. Some 3,000 employees of one of Liberia's biggest state-owned rubber plantations had been on strike for several weeks because of delays in salary payments. The senator had appealed to them to go back to work a few weeks earlier and promised their salaries would be paid. But when the workers ended their strike, the senator did not keep his promise. When Lassana returned to the plantation on Friday, things turned violent. The workers held him hostage. When the police arrived, the senator tried to escape and shot the three strikers.

Interference in union ballot: A Labour Ministry-supervised vote on 11 April to choose between the ICEM-affiliated Forestry, Logging, and Industrial Workers' Union of Liberia (FLIWUL) and a yellow union to represent up to 2,000 workers at ArcelorMittal's mining development in Liberia encountered flagrant interference by a company official and a Liberian legislator. The representation election took place in Nimba County on the Liberian-Guinea-Côte d'Ivoire border and at Buchanan, a port city on the Atlantic Coast. On the eve of the vote, the yellow union used a radio broadcast to discourage workers from voting. Election observers also reported that whoever was behind this group had pressed members of the Liberian Parliament to intervene with the Labour Ministry to cancel the vote. An ArcelorMittal boss, Arthur Massaquio, and a Member of Parliament, Gabriel Smith, arrived in Buchanan several hours after voting began and demanded a halt to balloting. Arthur Massaquio was the company's designated election observer, but left the polling area soon after balloting began. When he returned several hours later, he was with Representative Gabriel Smith, who began questioning workers on why they felt the urgency to have a union vote. He then ordered the strikers to go back to work because he was cancelling the election. Despite this, and the fact that several workers did leave the Buchanan polling area without voting, FLIWUL won the fair, government-supervised election.

More interference as ArcelorMittal seeks to cancel outcome of union ballot: ArcelorMittal protested at the victory of the Forestry, Logging, and Industrial Workers' Union of Liberia (FLIWUL) in the 11 April union election and wrote to the Ministry of Labour calling for the ballot to be declared invalid. In the company's protest, it claimed that the Labour Ministry failed to define the correct bargaining unit and that it failed to follow procedural matters leading up to the vote. The Labour Ministry rejected these claims, pointing to the many meetings and detailed consultations that had taken place prior to the ballot. The government then reprimanded the company for its "desire to delay the elections" by sending a list of its employees only two days ahead of the vote, instead of the mandated seven as prescribed by the Labour Code. "We ... understood that this was only a scheme to postpone the elections but to no avail."

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