-As The Fate Of Targeted 600 Redundancy-Threatened Firestone Workers Causes ‘Storm’ In The ‘Tea Cup’

While some 4,000 Liberians are struggling and in an uphill battle to escape deportation from the United States of America in keeping with the huge pressure mounted on the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program; an added stressful crunch has taken center-stage; as the fate of targeted 600 redundancy-threatened Firestone Workers has not only exacerbated more weight on the already helpless and ailing economy, but causes ‘storm’ in the ‘tea cup’ thereby creating a tense atmosphere in the labor force sector. 

The chilly move by Firestone comes on the heels of extreme high and alarming unemployment rate desperately confronting the government’s ability to rapidly resolve amidst anguished cries from the people for the regime to liberate them from the scourge of unemployment.

With so much stress, tension and tense pressure in government’s plate ranging from high unemployment, pending massive deportation of some 4,000 Liberian citizens from the United States back to Liberia coupled with such a huge number of citizens to be redundant; and considering the external family link of which Liberia is fully part and parcel; it is unthinkable to shy away from such national obstacle.

It can be recalled that Firestone Natural Rubber Co which operates the world’s largest single natural rubber plantation in Liberia declared that it will be laying off 13 percent of its workforce or around 800 Liberian employees.

The announcement is the latest blow to one of the West African country’s largest employers, which began reducing production at its rubber wood factory last September in response to falling rubber prices. These cuts will happen over the second quarter of this year, it said.

In a statement, Firestone said the lay-offs are “necessary due to continued and unsustainable losses resulting from high overhead costs associated with the company’s concession agreement with the government of Liberia, low natural rubber production because of the country’s prolonged civil wars and continued low global natural rubber prices.”

Global rubber prices have fallen by more than 40 percent since January 2017 and are now only slightly above historic lows. Firestone most recently laid off over 400 workers in 2016, again crediting the decision to falling rubber prices.

Firestone, an indirect subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas, signed a 99-year contract with the Liberian Government in 1926. Its plantation covers almost 200 square miles east of the capital Monrovia, reports Reuters.

At the same time, Margibi County District #2 Representative Ivar Jones said the decision to lay-off 800 employees amid the bad economy “is troubling and provoking.”

Predicated upon that, the House of Representatives had Labor Minister Moses Kollie summoned to appear before that august body on Thursday, March 21, during its 21st day sitting, to give a status report on the laying off of 13 percent (approximately 800 employees) by the second quarter by Firestone-Liberia operations, and the way forward.

A local daily reported that the sitting was slated be held in a regular or executive session, according to House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, but many persons are of the view that the Thursday’s session should be an open one, because of the sensitivity of the redundancy of 800 employees from Firestone-Liberia.

Nimba County District #5 Representative Samuel Kogar, proffered the motion for the agenda to be used at Tuesday’s session, but Margibi County District #2 Representative, Ivar Jones, said he was not ready to support the motion, a situation which was supported by other Representatives, thus putting the entire session in confusion. Some of the lawmakers were demanding that the redundancy exercise be included on the agenda.

According to Speaker Chambers, to ease the commotion, the issue will be discussed in an executive session and that the Labor Minister will appear before the august body to give an updated status report; a decision that was unanimously agreed by plenary.

“Let’s assume each of the 800 employees has a family size of about 10; so we can say about 8,000 Liberians will be suffering. This is frustrating,” Rep. Jones said.

However, Firestone Liberia’s press release, issued March 18, says “the action is necessary due to continued and unsustainable losses resulting from high overhead costs associated with the company’s Concession Agreement with the Liberian Government; low natural rubber production because of the country’s prolonged civil wars, and continued low global natural rubber prices.”

Firestone-Liberia says it has been working closely with the Ministry of Labor and the Agricultural Agro-Processing and the Industrial Workers Union of Liberia (AAIWUL) to ensure that employees made redundant as part of its action will be done in accordance with all applicable Liberian labor laws, company policies, and the company’s collective bargaining agreement with AAIWUL.

“Unfortunately, these measures alone will not be enough to restore Firestone-Liberia to profitability. As a result, the company will continue to evaluate all aspects of its business to ensure long-term competitiveness and determine the best allocation of company resources to optimize our portfolio, processes, and culture,” the company said.

Moreover, like many of the thousands of Liberians in the US who face possible deportation at the end of this month, Nyensuahtee Fofana, 23, is anxiously awaiting any sign the Trump administration might reverse course.

Fofana is one of an estimated 4,000 Liberians in the US through Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), a temporary status determined by the president. Starting in 1991, people fleeing civil war in Liberia were granted either Temporary Protective Status (TPS) or DED, both of which provide a work permit but not a path to citizenship. Every administration since then allowed them to stay in the country.

In that time, they established families, jobs and deep roots in their communities. This is especially true in Minnesota, which has one of the largest Liberian populations. Many work in healthcare and live in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis.

But last March, the Trump administration told DED holders they had a year to “get their affairs in order” before leaving the country. If they did not go voluntarily, they would face deportation.

The issue has attracted national attention. In February, the Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, perhaps America’s best-known refugee, brought DED holder Linda Clack as her guest to Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. Omar said she hoped that “by hearing the stories of people directly impacted” by his decision, Trump would “at long last find some empathy”. But nothing has changed and anxiety is running high.

Fofana has more at stake than most. In many ways, his story mirrors that of the Dreamers, undocumented migrants, mostly from Central or South America, who were brought to the US as children. He came to the US at the age of six, remembers little of Liberia and considers himself American.

He also has another pressing issue to consider: shortly after he arrived in the US, he was diagnosed with a heart condition doctors in Liberia had missed. He has had three open-heart surgeries.

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