On Friday, August 31, the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) signed an historic collective bargaining agreement with the largest mining multinational in Liberia.
The agreement—retroactive to April 1, 2012—includes salary increases and improved benefits. It also codifies a system of labor relations at all the multinational’s facilities, setting up avenues for labor-management dialogue in areas such as health and safety, and conflict resolution.
Workers covered by the agreement are located in Nimba County, Monrovia and the port of Buchanan. UWUL Local #4 will represent workers covered under the new agreement. The multinational, which is also the world’s largest steel and mining corporation, was Liberia’s first post-war major mining investor. It began operations in the shuttered facilities of the former Liberian-American-Swedish Minerals Company in 2007.
Although negotiations on the agreement began in November 2011, workers began an organizing drive in 2007. In 2009, they democratically elected leaders at the Nimba, Buchanan and Monrovia worksites. After the first iron ore shipment was announced in September 2011, workers and company representatives returned to the bargaining table.
Given that a number of other mining companies have set up operations in Liberia in recent years, UWUL hopes this agreement will set a standard for freedom of association and labor-management relations in the Liberian mining sector.
Since 2007 the Solidarity Center and the United Steelworkers (USW) have been working with UWUL’s leaders and shop stewards on the role and duties of shop stewards, and on negotiation strategies.
This agreement comes roughly four years after a groundbreaking collective agreement between Firestone Natural Rubber Liberia and the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL). That collective bargaining agreement resulted in several positive changes at the hugely influential rubber farm, including pay increases and an end to child labor.