MOL Takes Seize Of RIA Management/Workers Union Dispute

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Labor Minister, Cllr. Charles H. Gibson, says the Roberts International Airport (RIA), like other strategic entities of the country, should be treated with caution when it comes to Labor issues.

   “It is important for unions supervising such entity to understand that their responsibility is higher when it comes to national security and economic concerns to all Liberians,” Minister Gibson expressed.

   Minister Gibson was speaking on Wednesday, January 5, 2022 when he presented findings into the Ministry of Labor’s intervention in the RIA management and workers union conflict, which led to strike actions at the airport. The occasion was graced by representatives of the RIA management, headed by Acting Managing Director, Martin J. Hayes, and the leadership of the workers union as well as members of the press.

   Speaking further, Minister Gibson thanked the Minister of States, Nathaniel F. McGill, for his prompt intervention that brought the RIA workers’ strike action under control. Minister McGill later turned the matter over to the Ministry of Labor to take seize of it and resolve it amicably since it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor to handle all labor matters.

   Minister Gibson stated that, during the ministry’s intervention, separate meetings were held with the RIA management and the workers union. During these meetings, the Minister disclosed, the ministry established that there were issues of lack of adequate information dissemination to the workers, which led to speculation as it relates to the security of their employment with the RIA in view of the coming into effect a contract for the outsourcing of some departments at the RIA.

   Also, at a meeting with the management, it was agreed that certain potion of the outsourcing contract needed to be augmented and clarified to protect the interest of the workers.

   “The contract provides that certain category of employees will be turned over to an operator for a period of twelve (12) months beginning January 2022. After that period, the operator will have the sole responsibility to decide who they one to retain and who they are not interested in maintaining. Those who they decide to retain will enter full employment. Those they decline will return to the RIA management and continue with their employment status. And if it comes to the point where the RIA feels that those services are not needed, they will make the necessary representation for redundancy, and that the operator, who is a foreign company, will make provision in terms of severance pay in keeping with the Labor Law of Liberia,” Minister Gibson noted.

   The Labor Minister further added, “What we saw in the contract document was sufficient protection for workers who will not be retained by the operator, while we saw some gaps regarding workers that will be retained by the operator. Those gaps bordered on three things: firstly, back-pay for all workers at RIA has accumulated various months, but was not addressed in the agreement. How do we get it settled?

   “Secondly, what was also not clear in the agreement is that workers that will be retained by the outsourcing company will be employed at new. What happens to their insurance that they have accrued by working for many years with the RIA? That question needed to be clarified.

   “Lastly, we also saw that, even with the RIA, because of the economic challenges some workers have not been able to benefit from leaves and overtimes. We wanted those things to be addressed.”

   Minister Gibson informed the gathering that the RIA management has provided answers to all the concerns raised by the MOL, met up with the requirements set by the Ministry of Labor and communicated to the effect.

   In a communication addressed to the Minister of Labor on January 4, 2022 by the management of RIA pertaining to outstanding salaries and benefits of employees of the Roberts International Airport (RIA), who are to be transferred to the ground handling company, NAS, the Acting Managing Director, Martin J. Hayes, said, “We wish to make the following commitments: all salary arrears for employees from the affected departments shall be settled by the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) prior to the operator taking over the ground handling services; the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) commits to ensuring that, pursuant to Article 7.18 of the outsourcing agreement, the employees who may be employed by the operator shall carry over all accrued pension and insurance benefits while in the employ of the RIA; and the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) commits to vet and settle all legitimate entitlements accrued by the employees while in the employ of the LAA/RIA within six months of the 12 months’ cushion period.”

   In conclusion, Minister Gibson expressed that the Government of Liberia (GOL), through the Ministry of Labor, looks forward to the workers returning to work, and congratulated the management of the RIA for its cooperation in ensuring that the issue of the workers is put to rest. He said his ministry has taken seize of the RIA management and workers union situation for the next twelve (12) months.

   In remarks, the Acting Managing Director of the RIA, Martin J. Hayes, thanked Minister Gibson for the speedy handling of the matter, and reassured local and international partners as well as airlines that Liberia and the RIA remain peaceful.

   He promised that what happened a few days ago will not be repeated, and used the opportunity to say to the international partners and airlines that RIA management is greatly sorry for the embarrassment.

   “For the workers union, we are working together and will continue to work with you guys to ensure that our employees’ needs are met.”

   For his part, the President of the RIA Workers Union, Baryou Wallace, said that the union takes full responsibility for what occurred, and committed that, moving forward, they shall guard against anything that will cause problem or bring the name of the RIA into disrepute.

   “We want to assure the management that moving forward this will not happen again. We believe in the process of social dialogue because it is key to maintaining peace and harmony in the workplace. The union is a friend to the management because we believe that workers/union will never exist without management,” Wallace said.

   He used the occasion to thank the Minister of Labor for his judgment and leadership. “We agreed in full to what has been agreed upon, and we think that the interest of the workers is protected and look forward to the full implementation of what have been agreed on. We will remain engaged as partner to the management and the Ministry of Labor because we have no doubt that this will be carry out efficiently and effectively,” he added.

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