Liberian Workers Seek to Close Wage Gap with Expats

Miners, forklift drivers and other workers at ArcelorMittal in Liberia are seeking to close the wage gap between residents and expatriate workers, who can receive up to 10 times the salary for the same work.

But contract negotiations between the United Workers Union of Liberia Local 4 and ArcelorMittal have stalled, with management refusing to agree to the wage increase the workers’ are seeking. Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal is the world’s leading mining and steel company and has operated in Liberia since 2006. In 2013, the corporation saw $6.89 billion in profits.

Recently, Solidarity Center Africa Region Director Imani Countess talked with UWUL Local 4 Secretary General Amos Monweh, who discussed how the issues involved at the bargaining table reflect the country’s greater struggle to generate good jobs for Liberians while attracting overseas investment. Monweh has worked at ArcelorMittal for nine years and was elected secretary general in 2012. The following is an edited version of Amos Monweh’s remarks.

Workers at Arcellor Mittal are demanding a 70 percent increase in wages so that the highest paid national staff is equal to the least paid expatriate.

Why is this important? Arcellor Mittal is the global leader in steel production. In Liberia, they help set the standards in terms of industry practice.

In ArcelorMital facilities, non-technical staff, including hospital workers, security staff and key positions in management are filled by expatriates from South Africa, the United Kingdom and India, as well as a number of countries in Africa.

Salaries and benefits for expatriates vary significantly. Such variance create a serious mis-alignment with higher wages, allowances and benefits going to expatriates but not to nationals with similar skills. For example, an expatriate mine superintendent may make $10,000-$15,000 per month, while a national will make approximately $1,000. This 10-fold difference creates a discriminatory pattern, in which Liberians are on the losing side.

Further, expatriates often are not required to pay taxes on their salaries, which reduces revenue flow to the Liberian government.

Firms are required to establish skills development plans, including sending Liberians abroad for training if necessary.

(“Liberianization,” the transfer of skills to nationals with the goal of reducing reliance on expatriate labor, is a government requirement. The Investment Incentive Act of 2010, popularly known as the Liberianization policy, sets aside 16 businesses exclusively for Liberians.)

With the first five years of a concession agreement (to a multinational company), plans should be in place so that skills are transferred to nationals within that time frame. Yet, these skill development plans are never put in place.

The union position is: Obey the law, enforce the concession agreement, or bring in Liberians.  We will all make less money, but will ensure salary alignment, enhance skills and increase the number of decent jobs for Liberian nationals.