Burnt Rubber: Firestone Cuts Back In Liberia


Burnt rubber: Firestone cuts back in Liberia

HARBEL, Liberia, , (APP - UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 23rd Nov, 2016 ) - US rubber giant Firestone, no stranger to controversy during its 90 years in Liberia, is again stoking anger, this time for firing hundreds of workers who now fear for their livelihoods.

Firestone has carried out two waves of sackings over the last few months, aiming at a seven percent cut in the workforce because of what it describes as "ongoing significant and unsustainable losses" due to depressed rubber prices.

Workers at its plantation around an hour from the Liberian capital, aware of strong competition from Asia and the little respite in sight for the rubber market, fear they have few means of fighting back.

"The day we were told, the same day, 189 people had already been laid off," said Harris Kerkula, president of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), who told AFP the firm had broken a collective bargaining agreement.

After intervention by the labour ministry, a few dozen jobs were saved, but officials asked the union to accept the redundancies "because the company is going through some difficulties", Kerkula added.

As Liberia's biggest private sector employer, with around 8,000 staff, Firestone's plantations in Harbel have grown into an entire community over the decades, providing a generous package of services the state cannot match.

As a result, redundancy means workers lose their free housing, money for school fees, medical care and subsidised meals in one fell swoop, with just six weeks' severance pay for many. "I will be going to Lofa County where I was born because if I stay here my family will die from hunger," former employee Nyumah Tamba told AFP.

"I have been working for nine years and I am leaving with nothing," he said, watching his three children play nearby.