Benefiting hundreds of miners, forklift drivers and other workers, the United Workers Union of Liberia (UWUL) and ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML)—part of global steel giant ArcelorMittal group—signed their fourth labor contract in Monrovia December 14. The three-year contract includes a 14.5 percent wage increase over the duration of the contract as well as a sexual harassment clause to protect workers, especially women. The contract continues workers’ effort to close the wage gap between resident and expatriate workers, who can receive up to 10 times the salary for the same work.
“While these unions have very little in the way of material resources, they have shown themselves to be unstoppable when it comes to building union power and mobilizing their members,” says Fred Redmond, president of the United Steelworkers (USW), which supports organizing efforts with UWUL, a Solidarity Center ally.
According to Redmond, UWUL is having significant impact on workers in Liberia beyond its footprint through a “surge of organizing” at several new mining operations and—through a new contract—providing momentum for workers currently negotiating with Firestone Liberia and Golden Veroleum’s palm oil farms.
Two wildcat strikes broke out at an AML mine in Yekepa, Nimba County, earlier this year when workers protested low wages, wage theft, job insecurity, lack of healthcare, poor housing and lack of schooling for workers’ children. Members of the Liberia House of Representatives last month voted to audit AML to investigate its compliance with its Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with the government of Liberia, which requires the company to establish and maintain medical and education facilities for employees, their families and the broader community, and to prioritize the employment and development of local Liberians.
AML ranks fifth in size of 25 ArcelorMittal mining companies worldwide. The company has about 300,000 employees in 60 countries around the world, including Brazil, Bosnia, Canada, France, Mexico, Ukraine and the United States.
In Liberia, the Solidarity Center and the USW partner with workers in key extractive industries such as mining, timber and rubber, as well as with domestic workers, to enable unions to better serve their members and organize additional workers. UWUL began organizing AML in 2008 with training and support from the Solidarity Center and USW, winning the right to represent workers in 2009. The workers’ first agreement with AML was negotiated in 2012.