After months of stagnation, the Cocopa Rubber Plantation in Nimba County on Monday January 16 officially resumed operation.
A tour of the concession yesterday revealed little sign of progress, except for the rehabilitation of the road in the concession area, the renovation of the main office and the restoration of its warehouse.
About 100 tappers were recruited and are expected to begin work, while the company is gearing up to reopen the plantation’s only clinic. The recruitment of qualified teachers for the next academic year is in progress. “School will open in the next school year, because all those we hired already have their children in other schools,” said Solomon Gaigaie, General Manager of Nimba Rubber Inc. (NRI) which operates Cocopa Rubber Plantation.
Meanwhile most of the houses in Camp #1 remain uninhabited because their previous occupants were among those who were paid off, according to one of the newly employed workers.
In March last year, the workers of the Cocopa Rubber Plantation laid down their tools in demand for their salary arrears and payoff.
What appeared peaceful turned violent when the workers blocked the main highway linking Ganta and the southeastern part of Liberia, after a month of go–slow ended without a response from the government.
Police stepped in to restore calm, but the situation further deteriorated when the main office, warehouse and the staff quarters were raided and looted.
After pressure from the workers, followed by much intervention, the management began the payment process and paid off about 400 employees. The remaing workforce began some level of work for a few months, before tension again developed when their pay, along with other benefits, were again delayed.
The workers went on a rampage for the second and the third times for their wages, until October 2016 when the government deployed several units of armed police to maintain law and order.
General Manager Gaigaie, said the company has now begun full operation, with the rehabilitation of roads, to be followed by housing, a clinic and other facilities that were destroyed.
He said all the makeshift houses built by displaced people during the war will be demolished to give the camp a facelift.
In terms of employment, Gaigiae said the company has employed over 350 workers and that the employment process will continue until it reaches the first targeted workforce of 500 .
Mr. Gaigiae disclosed that the company has reached an agreement with an Indian company to build a plywood factory using lumber from old rubber trees, while NRI is renovating the rubber processing factory.
“With all of these in the pipeline,” he said, “there will be more employment opportunities.”