LIBERIA: Labour Ministry Orders AMP Terminals To Reinstate 24 Suspended Employees… Lifted Dock Workers Union Suspension

Labour Minister, Charlie Gibson

The Ministry of Labour has order the APM Terminal Management to reinstate effective immediately the twenty-four (24) suspended workers with all rights and privileges appertaining to the exercise of their respective functions, as is enshrined in the their respective employment contracts.

Ministry has also lifted the suspension on the Dock Workers Union (DOWUL) and all its rights under the Labour Law of Liberia fully restored.

Labour Minister Cllr. Charles H. Gibson made the pronouncement Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at a major press conference held at his Labour Ministry office in Congo Town.

During news conference, Minister Gibson presented his Ministry’s findings and decision from inquiries conducted into the Industrial dispute between the Management of APM Terminal and its aggrieved employees.

On 29th September 2020, some aggrieved workers of APM Terminal commenced a strike in the form of a go slow action with the support of their mother union (Dock Workers Union of Liberia – DOWUL) which lasted for three days. From the perspective of the aggrieved employees and DOWUL, there are some unresolved issues which the management of APM Terminal continues to ignore thereby forcing them to stage a go slow and these include unpaid leave allowance, medical insurance, food allowance, Collective Bargaining Agreement, unilateral and frequent revision of the company’s handbook by management, extra (13th) pay, amongst others. It is significant to note that the September 29th go slow was without violence and predicated upon growing tension between the APM management and the employees supported by their union, spanning back to several months appertaining to alleged “bad labor practice” on the part of the company.

Following months of interventions by the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry has made a final determination into five of the six unresolved issues outlined in the letter of complaint by the aggrieved workers and their union.

Those issues include: Annual Leave, Hand Book, Medical Benefit/Insurance, Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and Food Allowance; all in favor of the workers and union.

On the issue of the Extra or 13th month pay which is the sixth unresolved issue, the AMP Terminal employment contract succinctly include a provision of an extra salary based on the salary amount of November of the year. The aggrieved workers contend and complain that management is engaged in false accounting and by so doing denies them the extra month.

Making a determination on the matter, the Ministry of Labour said that “Appertaining to the thorny issue of (extra month pay), a more in-depth and critical analysis of professional accountants is required in order to better understand the contention by either side, and above all, to ensure a fair and just determination of the issue.

Accordingly, it is our decision that this issue be submitted to a Board of Arbitration of professional Accountant; each party nominating one accountant and the chair appointed by the Ministry of Labour or the Labour court”.

As earlier quoted in the “background” above, in the letters of suspension to the 24 suspended workers, the Management specifically accused them, individually and collectively, of “seen physically involved as the Strike Ringleader, inciting and intimidating staff, amongst others.

The letter of suspension when on to say “Based on the above, you are suspended from work effective October 8, 2020, with pay pending the outcome of the investigation being conducted by the MOL. Further, you may also need to provide a written account of your involvement during the incident to support the investigation”.

Speaking during the press conference, Labour Minister Gibson said that the investigation revealed that the APM Terminal Management failed to provide evidence to prove their allegations against any of the 24 suspended workers. “In fact the MOL repeatedly requested for such evidence but none was provided throughout the length of this investigation. It is therefore logical to conclude that no evidence was provided because none was available.”

The Ministry findings of the investigation established that the 24 suspended workers were either arbitrarily selected or targeted, as they are all largely members of the APM Terminal workplace Union.

As it relates the DOWUL, the Liberian Labour Minister said that; “Under the Labor Law of Liberia, Mother Unions, in this instance DOWUL, is responsible to ensure that workplace Unions are sufficiently educated and compliable with regards to the rules of engagements when it comes to strike actions. Under our law, Workers have the right to strike but must meet certain legal requirements for it to be legal. In this instance, the full legal requirements was not met in that, whereas the complaint was lodged and remained pending in excess of 30 days, 48 hours notices was not issue to the Ministry of Labor and the APM Terminal Management for the strike to begun. In Legal terms we say the strike was legally inchoate – meaning it met some of the legal requirement but not all. In the contemplation of the framers of the law, this 48 hour notice is essential for Management and the Ministry of Labour to put in place contingency plan so as to avoid a total breakdown of operations and/ or institute last minute remedial actions by making compromises to avert the strike.”

On 1st October 2020, the former Minister of Labour Hon. Moses Y. Kollie suspended the License of Dock Workers Union of Liberia (DOWUL) for allegedly staging an illegal strike actions at the APM Terminals until an investigation into the current dispute at the company.

Minister Gibson informed journalists that the findings and decision of the Ministry of Labour have been officially presented to both Management of the APM Terminals and the Leadership of the APM Terminals-Liberia Workplace Representative/Aggrieved Workers.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labour renews its commitment to ensuring decent work standard and a harmonious working environment in all places of work in the Republic of Liberia.

The Ministry said that it will remain uncompromising on protecting the rights of workers and also very conscious of the challenges faced by employers and would do nothing to discourage or jeopardize their investment.

“Our role therefore, is to ensure that within the confirms of the law, employers and employees are happy and that the workplace is peaceful.

It is our hope that the Management of the APM Terminal and the Aggrieved Workers will receive the findings and decision in good faith and open a new page for peaceful coexistence” Minister Gibson concluded.

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