Tension is mounting on Cocapa Plantation over the Management’s reported failure to pay workers their five months’ salary arrears, for which normal activities on the plantation including school and clinic functions within the concession area have stalled.
Aggrieved workers are threatening to block the main road leading to the southeast of Liberia from Ganta that passes through the plantation.
All the company’s offices have remained closed to the extent that, even security officers assigned with the company are also threatening to stop working until the management can pay their arrears.
“We are not going to work until we get our five months pay and our monthly rice ration,” said employee Jackson Sayee.
“For the past five months, we have received rice rations twice, when we are supposed to receive two bags each of the 25 kg rice monthly,” he said.
Junior Tokpa, a worker at the production department said, “I am not working because of the delay in the payment of my salary arrears.”
Students who are affected by the situation have also threatened to stage a sit-in action on the main Ganta/Saclepea Highway to draw the government’s attention their plight since their teachers too have failed to come to class.
The situation in Cocopa has gone on over a decade without any remedy in sight, one of long service employees remarked.
In 2013, the government took the previous concession owner, the Liberia Company (LIBCO), to court for what it said was “bad labor practices”, for which the government claimed the concessionaire was responsible.
Although the company lost the case in court, subsequently after the verdict, government set up an interim management team under Nimba Rubber Incorporated (NRI).
The NRI has since been managing the concession, but with lots of problems owning to her inability to pay the workers on time, as well as supply their monthly rice rations and to fulfill their medical benefits.
This situation, the workers have constantly complained to management, some of them told the Daily Observer.
“We are not receiving rice supply like it used to be in the past; the salary too is not on time. What are supposed to eat and take care of our families,” the Workers Union president, Sarkpa Mahn told the Daily Observer.
When contacted, NRI Management Team Operations Manager, Benjamin Saye, confirmed the workers claim via mobile phone. He noted that the company was now forced to close its central office because of the aggrieved workers’ demands and the arising tension.
He also confirmed the closure of the only school and the clinic within the concession area.
Mr. Saye has already fled the plantation and is seeking refuge in Ganta. He said he left the concession area for fear of his own safety.
He explained, among other things, that few months ago, his generator was stolen from his house on the plantation.
He also confirmed that the management owes the workers some arrears, but added that the major problem facing the company in settling its obligation to the employees was primarily due to the drastic drop in the price of rubber on the world market.
“What the workers are producing cannot generate enough revenue to pay them,” he said.
However, a member of the Workers Union at the plantation has called on the government to intervene to avoid the repeat of what happened in Yekepa when some workers of AcelorMittal became disgruntled and staged a violent demonstration.
Mr. Saye has meanwhile expressed great disappointment in NRI’s partners (not named) for not meeting up with their side of the obligation since the concession was turned over to them by the government.