HARBEL, Liberia (Feb. 10, 2006) — All 6,000-plus workers at the Bridgestone/Firestone natural rubber plantation near Harbel have been out on strike for about the last five days, according to the company.
At the crux of the strike is the workers´ claim that BFS has for years shortchanged them approximately 37 percent in their wages, a company spokesman said. This is not the case, he added, but the accusation resulted from the confusion over the differential between the Liberian and U.S. dollar.
When BFS returned to Liberia after a seven-year hiatus caused by the Liberian civil war, the government ordered the company to pay plantation workers in U.S. dollars instead of the severely devalued Liberian currency, the spokesman said. Negotiations are continuing between the workers´ union, the company and officials of the government of newly elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, he said.
Currently BFS faces a lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court from the International Labor Rights Fund, charging that the company treats its Liberian workers as virtual slaves. The BFS spokesman said the strike puts the lie to the lawsuit´s charges: "The strike indicates that Firestone´s Liberian workers have the same rights as any other freely employed workers."
Officials of the International Labor Rights Fund could not immediately be reached for comment.