Liberia: Low Rubber Prices Causing Workers’ Strike at Cocopa
Limited resources to sustain the workforce at the Cocopa Rubber Plantation, now Nimba Rubber Incorporated, is said to be undermining the smooth operation of the company.
According to the Human Resource Manager, Gondeh Nenwah, the workforce at the plantation cannot be maintained with the income the company is generating monthly. As a result, the workers will not receive their salaries and other benefits on time.
He said the company employed the workforce at the time the price of rubber was favorable and production was also high, but the drastic decline in the rubber price has undermined the company’s ability to maintain the workforce.
“We employed these workers at a time when the price of rubber was good and also the production was high. Now, most of the trees have depleted significantly, so it is hard now to pay on time,” he said.
He said the cash-flow remains the cardinal problem in maintaining the plantation, which has over 600 workers, including tappers, factory workers and other support staff.
Cocopa also has a factory and processes all its rubber before sending to market. However, Mr. Nenwah explained that the decline in the price is also affecting the processed rubber sent in the market.
He was not clear with the current price of processed rubber per ton in the Liberian market, but said the price of rubber per ton had dropped below US$600 and the current price of processed rubber when exported is about US$1500.
But, he said, even to process rubber costs a lot; that if two tons of rubber are processed, it yields 1.6 tons, minus the cost of fuel and the labor which, from all indications, is like working at a loss.
The Cocopa Plantation was a center of labor unrest for over two decades, until the Government of Liberia canceled the contract with the original company ‘LIBCO’ through a legal process and turned the Plantation over to ‘Nimba Rubber Incorporated, owned by former Internal Affairs Minister Harrison Karnwea.
Despite the NRI taking over, the problems that somehow led the government to cancel the LIBCO contract, including poor housing facilities, better wages and other benefits are yet to be resolved.
Recently, the Workers union blocked the main highway leading to Saclepea in order to claim the government’s attention to prevail on the management of NRI to pay their salary arrears ranging from last year.
The unrest turned violent after riot police stormed the barricade and used tear gas to disperse the workers and allow free movement of goods and services and bring calm to the workers and the plantation.
The HR manager told the Daily Observer that the workers’ September to December 2023 arrears were paid to ease the tension and promised to pay the January’s arrears by the end of this month.
The major issue surrounding the timely payment of the workers is the issue about cash-flow, which was caused by the unprecedented fall in the price of rubber.
“Unless we cut down the workforce,” the Nenwah said. “If not, we will continue to encounter problems with the running of the plantation and meeting all our obligations timely.”
“Let it be clear to the workers that the management is not making money and should know that the price of rubber can be determined by the end user, so we should be patient in times like this,” he concluded.