File: The Firestone plantations have for decades supported a community of 4.7 million residents.
MONROVIA - Firestone, the biggest private employer in Liberia, announced 200 job cuts among its 6,200 employees, with hundreds more redundancies to follow in the West African nation owing to falling rubber prices.
"This decision is due to a continued decline in production because of the decrease of rubber prices on the world market," said the US rubber giant, which has been present since 1926 in the region's poorest country.
The 200 employees made redundant worked "mainly in the (rubber) plantation department," the biggest in the world, the company's own "Voice of Firestone Liberia" radio station reported.
A further 400 job losses are to follow.
All workers made redundant will receive benefits "in accordance with the labor law of Liberia," the company said.
The Firestone plantations at Harbel, 50km west of the capital Monrovia, have for decades supported a community of 4.7 million residents, providing them with free housing, healthcare and subsidised meals and schooling.
But last November, Liberian trade unions denounced the working and living conditions of the Firestone workers as "appalling".
In 2016 the company employed 8,000 people in Liberia, but it has since whittled the numbers down since then while blaming falling rubber prices.
President George Weah's government, faced with high inflation and a fall in the Liberian dollar since he took power in January 2018, managed to lessen the impact of an earlier Firestone announcement that a total of 800 workers would be laid off, bringing the number down to 600.
But Abel Ngigie, head of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), called the job cuts "unfair" and contrary to agreements signed with management.
Annual global production of rubber rose from nine million tonnes to 13 million over three years, according to 2017 figures, but demand has not kept up, and prices plummeting from $5,000 back in 2011 to just $1,000 a tonne last year.