As Gov’t ‘Poorly’ Monitor Forest Management Contracts: –Bad Labour Practices at Logging Companies? –3 Logging Groups Accused  

By: Moses R. Quollin, quollinmoses@gmail.com +231770922412/+231880922412 (Liberia Forest Media Watch-LFMW)

Monrovia: An assessment of labor conditions for logging companies’ workers in three (3) Forest Management Contracts (FMCs) in Liberia has uncovered too many unfair practices meted ordinary workers within the logging sector.

Report said most Liberian laborers, already coping with daily challenges including poor working environments, irregular safety gears (personal protective equipment-PPEs), have no formal contracts, or short term contracts, and among others.

“The wage for some of these workers was US$3.5 per day, which does not meet the official minimum wage and there seemed to be little appreciation that this type of work meets the standard for the ‘formal sector’, where the minimum wage is US$5.50 per day.”  The assessment report noted.

Finding 1

Finding 2

Recommendations:
Government:
Ministry of Labor and the FDA should:
Ensure logging companies comply with employment terms and conditions;
Intensify monitoring of the forests and logging concessions to understand working conditions for improvement in rights protection;
Ensure logging companies allow and work with workers to organize trade union. Workers reported requesting organization of trade union, but have not been granted this right from companies;
Demand companies to provide desirable living conditions for workers. Most workers reported poor living conditions at companies’ camp sites;
Ensure workers are given up to date equipment and safety materials for work. Workers were recorded as not having safety materials;
Request companies to provide written contracts for workers, whether short-term or long-term period.
Community/Employees should:
Share with company areas you would want improvement in skills to improve performance on job. Enhanced capacity would increase productivity and job opportunity;
Engage logging company and government entities (mainly MOL, FDA and CSOs) to support you in organizing trade union in logging concessions;
Community should continue to demand compliance to the provision in the social agreement on “first preference to community’s members during time of employment”;
Engage logging company to improve living conditions on camps;
Demand to sign written contract with company for the period of assignment;
Women should be encouraged to participate in recruitment exercise at logging company by expressing interest or applying for available employment opportunity;
Engage top managers of company to provide food ration and pay salary as stipulated in the contract;
Ensure proper maintenance of company’s equipment and safety materials to prevent unfortunate situations and or injuries at work.
Logging Company
Build workers’ capacity in specific logging operation areas to enhance productive and increase the number of community members employed as skilled workers for long-term;
Provide more employment opportunity for women;
Continue to provide first preference to community’s members during time of employment;
Give workers written contract for the period they are hired;
Pay workers regularly and on time, many workers interviewed said salary payment has always delayed and sometimes extend beyond the production period;
Provide food ration on a regular basis (at the beginning of every month)-As it is popularly known, emptied bag can’t stand;
Improve the living conditions of workers by making housing desirable for them;
Allow workers to organize trade union that can be used to express their grievances to company and explain company’s policy and requirements;
Place suggestion boxes at the camp sites to allow workers and visitors to freely express themselves on happenings at the company’s operations areas;
Stop intimidating and dismissing workers who try to provide feedback on their experiences at the company.

According to Abraham Billy, National Project Coordinator of the European Union Non-State Actor project (implemented by Tropenbos International through VOSIEDA), the 3 logging companies (FMCs) include Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Incorporated (FMC A, since 2008) operating in Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties; Geblo Logging Incorporated (FMC I, since 2009) in Sinoe and Grand Gedeh Counties; and the International Consultant Capitol-ICC (FMC K, 2009) between Rivercess, Nimba and Granded Counties.

Whilst most employee interviewed felt they could manage with the general living conditions offered by the companies, relatives of some of who lost their lives at work complained of minimal financial support and only for burial purposes, leaving dependents of the decease unsupported, the report said.

“The lack of enforcement of laws and policies on such compensation, together with the lack of clear information to workers and their families on their rights, leaves companies with discretionary power to offer anything to the victims’ families.” Mr. Billy maintained.

Generally, he disclosed among other things, that the report uncovered inconsistent wording in social agreements around the preference for workers from local communities; lack of appropriate or adequate employment contracts; implication for compliance with minimum wage laws; and obstacles to organize labor and formation of trade unions.

The assessment report was compiled by the Volunteers to Support International Efforts in Developing Africa (VOSIEDA) and the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) with technical and financial supports from Tropenbos International through the European Union Non-State Actor (EU-NSA) project.

In an “unofficial” respond, the FDA technical manager for commercial forestry, Jerry Nyemah has acknowledged the report noting that the Authority is very challenged with many issues including logistical and financial constraints. He promised to review the report along with his colleagues at the Forestry Development Authority, and discuss the matter with his boss C. Mike Doryen who will official state FDA’s position.

The Ministry of Labour (MOL), government’s entity with jurisdiction on all labor issues is still silent on the matter as authorities failed to attend the launching program of the “Employment Status and Contracting Conditions in 3 Forest Management Contracts (FMCs)” held on March 13, 2020 in Monrovia.

Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW), a consortium of investigative journalists following forestry issues, made some efforts to independently verify concerns raised against the three (3) logging companies but was greeted challenges.

LFMW visited both ICC and Ruby Light/Geblo headquarters in Monrovia (14th Street Sinkor) but could not have access to their management as an Indian national only identified as Gomez…(might be misspelled) refused to grant the media an audience. A female security posted at the entrance was used to shy away from the journalists.

When contacted management of Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Incorporated, through a representative, Emmanuel Moore said Alpha is more focus on upgrading the company instead of responding to “piece of shit by attention-seeking politicians.”

Emmanuel also disclosed that his management has already meet with Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo on similar issue. “I called them [NGOs/CSOs] airborne disease… In fact, we are business people not politicians. Thank you!” he angrily told LFMW via mobile phone.

See findings, Recommendations, and additional photos below

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About Cholo Brooks 12525 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.