A month long ‘go slow’ at the Cocopa Rubber Plantation on Friday April 1 turned violent after aggrieved workers blocked the main road leading to Saclapea from Ganta, preventing vehicles from plying their regular route.
The action forced an ambulance transporting a patient from the Bahn Refugee Camp to Ganta to divert to another route through Karnplay to Ganta.
Officers of the Liberia National Police Emergency Response Unit (ERU) who arrived on the scene tried to disburse the crowd but the situation went out of hand and the police resorted to the use of tear gas.
During the confusion, three police officers sustained injuries resulting from stones thrown at them from the crowd.
The workers allegedly broke into the main warehouse at the plantation, as well as the only clinic, and looted everything there. When confronted, their spokesman denied that they were involved in the looting.
He said they embarked on a peaceful go-slow but when the police arrived and began to use tear gas, the crowd lost it, leading to the looting and disorderly conduct.
The Plant’s Operation Manager, Benjamin Saye, and senior staff members of the various departments have since moved to Ganta.
Eleven persons, including two women were arrested and brought to Ganta for questioning, but they were later released after Acting Ganta City Mayor Ben Dokpa, upon the instruction of the Supt. Zuagele, stood their bonds.
Meanwhile, the situation at the plantation is now calm. Police officers are presently on the plantation to protect other facilities that were not tampered with, the County Police Commander told the Daily Observer.
The management is set to pay the workers their arrears today, April 4, as well as recruit a minimum number of workers that it can maintain, Mr. Saye said.
The go–slow at the plantation began a month ago, when teachers, nurses and even security officers decided to stop all operations until salary arrears were paid.
The workers meanwhile threatened to close the highway linking Ganta and Saclapea if the government failed to address their plight.
The management was forced to hire a Community Watch Forum to take control of the facilities until the disturbance was ended.
Many of the citizens of Nimba have expressed disappointment in the workers’ action when there was a process already underway to pay them.
“Although, we’re in sympathy with the Cocopa workers for the delay in getting their salaries, we’re not in support of taking the law into their own hands,” said an eyewitness at the scene.
He added “They were going to get their arrears so they shouldn’t have gone on the rampage.”
The recent saga began when the government of Liberia took the plantation from the previous owner, LIBCO due to bad labor practices in 2013.
Since then the workers have continued to complain about delays in receiving their wages and monthly rice supply.
Recently, the present management, Nimba Rubber Incorporated, issued a distribution of rice to the aggrieved workers to ease the tension while working on the payment of salary arrears which was supposed to start on April 2.