Aggrieved GVL employees protest

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Aggrieved GVL employees protest
Aggrieved GVL employees protest

Africa-Press – Liberia. Despite a daylong dialogue with various stakeholders, aggrieved employees of Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) in Grand Kru County, southeast Liberia have refused to sign a resolution for calm to be restored to the concession area, vowing instead, to continue their go-slow.

Grand Kru County Legislative Caucus headed by Acting Chair Numene T. H Bartekwa and Electoral District#1 Representative Nathaniel Zoe Bahway engaged the aggrieved workers in two days of dialogue held in Nawaken on Saturday, February 17, and Sunday, February 18, 2024, respectively.

The dialogue brought together aggrieved workers of GVL, Workers Union, affected communities, local authorities, women, elders, youth, representatives from the National Bureau of Concession, and GVL executives, amongst others.

The forum had aimed to address series of concerns raised by the aggrieved workers contained in a 13-count document presented against the Management of Golden Verolum Liberia.

Highlights of the complaints include qualms against SAAR and SUNU insurance companies, increment of housing allowance, good healthcare system, housing facility, education of employees’ dependents, transportation allowance, and 100% payment for staffers’ bikes, among others.

Reading out the counts, spokesperson for the aggrieved employees, Isaac Dweh said, SAAR Insurance company, whose policy covers field workers has allegedly received about US$25,000, or an equivalent of 4.6 million Liberian Dollars from 1000 field workers since July 1, 2018, up to present.

The workers detail that the insurance company’s policy is purposely for death and accident, but there have been several accidents at the company without any of the victims benefitting anything, including some of their colleagues and their family members.

They said though they have written many communications from GVL Management, calling for cancellation of the policy with SAAR Insurance Company in accordance with Article 19.4 of the 2019 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that states “Any individual employee may withdraw from the insurance plan by advising the company in writing and the company shall honor their withdrawal request.” But the aggrieved employees said the company has refused.

According to them, SUNU Insurance Company which is for staff, recognizes that every bike must be insured but refuses to accept the fact that an insurance company that no one has benefited from shouldn’t be imposed on them.

Spokesman Dweh pointed out that they as staffers of GVL Grand Kru County have understood that SUNU Company is a scheme designed by management and her cohorts to exploit them and that despite payment of monthly premium of US$12 by each employee, they benefit nothing.

He disclosed that since they agreed with management, the company has deducted over US$20,000 from staffers’ monthly salaries with nothing in return despite tragedies that befell some of their colleagues, resisting that such company can’t keep deducting their salary, calling on the Management of GVL to terminate the contract with SAAR and SUNU companies because both institutions, according to them, are not in their interest.

Dweh continued that the company has jeopardized the health of employees because Article 10.1 of the concession agreement states in part “..The investor shall construct or cause to be constructed and operated at least one centrally located fully operational estate doctor hospital with basic facilities within ten(10) years..”, and Article 18.4 of the 2019 CBA also obligates the company to provides “medical facilities as per the government of Liberia District Clinic Standard.”

According to him, the company’s hospital doesn’t even have a scale to test weight nor malaria test kits, essential drugs, physicians and medical doctors, forcing employees and their dependents to walk from Divisions 4&5 to Behwan and other clinics for malaria checker and test for skin diseases, because GVL-operated clinic lacks laboratory and technicians.

He said though the company promised to provide health care service for employees, the facility lacks standardized services, including fully functional midwifery wardroom, and ambulance for patients.

He disclosed that out of 100% workforce, senior staffers constitute only 1% that is entitled to housing facilities, while 99% that comprises field workers doesn’t benefit despite management’s promise to have constructed housing units for them, which is long overdue, causing 99% of the field workers in Garraway and other estates to rent outside of the camp, while management is providing mereUS$10 for rentals far less than the value of houses that the 1% senior staffers are domiciled in.

“For instance, the 1% abode contains a flush toilet, bathroom, a kitchen, two bedrooms, big living room, and most importantly, 24/7 electricity and pipe borne water. Unarguably, the cost of rent for GVL apartment when commercialized will be at 60-80USD monthly. So we are asking the company since they don’t want to build us housing, let them increase our housing allowance which is $10 to $45”, he said.

Mr. Dweh said they welcome the current mediation between management and them because the presence of GVL has impacted their lives in some positive ways, but they are compelled to inform the Grand Kru Caucus about some of the bad labour practices being meted against them, which he noted is unacceptable because it has the propensity to impair their growth perpetually.

The aggrieved workers spokesperson said they’re fully cognizant that dialoguing to find a resolution is the most ideal methodology, but the Management of Golden Veroleum Liberia’s failure to do the right thing could intensify their go slow.

For his part, Grand Kru County Legislative Caucus Chair Senator Numene T. H. Bartekwa said although the workers were so angry, but for accepting to listen and dialogue with the company, showed some level of love and regard for the county officials and the company.

Senator Bartekwa noted that it’s unfortunate to hear that the Management of GVL hasn’t addressed plights of the workers, knowing how damaging it is for workers to continue the go slow.

“So my people, I have listened to your plights and that’s why Representative Bahway and I have come to say thank you for the orderly manner you have demonstrated doing this participatory meeting, though war can begin from the frontline but [it]can always end on the conference table”, he said.

The senator said the caucus is proud of the aggrieved workers for the peaceful atmosphere under which the dialogue was held, saying “So what has been demonstrated by you people, the Grand Kru Legislative Caucus is proud of you, and we will never do anything that will go against your interest because you saw the way Representative Bahway and I were waking up; you should know that we are here for you, although the company CEO isn’t happy but the truth should be told and your interest should be their concern.”

He pointed out that though the country is blessed with resources but its people can’t explore them because they’re not capacitated, so they have brought partners to help and these partners shouldn’t only exploit but ensure that the people benefit from their natural resources.

“We have attached seriousness to this as a caucus and that’s why we have left Monrovia to come and listen to your plights and that aren’t CBA-related should be addressed by the company and those which are CBA should be handled by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture though they haven’t started work yet, and once they start then both of us will sit on the round table to discuss these issues which are important and labor-related.”

He promised to engage the GVL Management to address those urgent issues but appealed to the workers to exercise patience because collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is a joint discussion that needs presence of the Labour and Agriculture Ministers, including the union and the aggrieved workers’ head and can’t be done when these key ministers have not started work.

“We have come Representative Bahway and I, to resolve this in a civil and polite manner, so I’m asking the GVL management to handle those plights that are urgent now and do the right thing for our people.”

In response, Elvis H. Morris, Vice President for strategy and stakeholder engagements, said the company has listened to the aggrieved workers and will address those that are urgent.

“We are calling on you (aggrieved employees) to do a letter with attached signatures for these insurance companies and once it’s done, we will immediately stop the payment of money to them. We promise to recondition the clinics and provide more lab equipment and employ a midwife that will do all the necessary work for you”, Mr. Morris pledged on behalf of the company.

He said management is committed to addressing those urgent issues, but cautions the aggrieved workers to be patient because housing, education, salary increments, among others, are to be addressed through a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

However, despite the encouragement and promises, the aggrieved workers have refused to sign a resolution, committing to return to work, pending response from Management.

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