Cocopa Workers Block Nimba Highway

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Workers at the Cocopa Plantation in Nimba County have once again blocked the main highway linking Ganta and Saclepea with the southeastern region, in demand of four months of salary arrears.

The action, which began early Monday, September 12, has brought the movement of vehicles to a standstill as angry workers threatened severe repercussions if anyone tried to force their way through.

Health worker Sam Dahn was caught between Saclepea and Cocopa on his way to work in Ganta early Monday morning.

He told Radio Saclepea via mobile phone that the workers placed “sticks, old motorbikes and anything they could lay their hands on” on the highway to prevent vehicles and pedestrians from traversing it.

He quoted some of the plantation workers as saying that their children are not in school; that the schools at the plantation are still closed; and that workers have not been paid for four months.

“I tried to appeal to them to allow me to pass, but they vehemently refused and threatened to damage my motorbike if I forced my way through,” he said.

Senior staff members at the plantation are reported to have fled to Ganta for their safety. Meanwhile, a Cocopa administrative assistant, while confirming the workers’ action, said “the workers have long threatened to take action in demand of their salary.”

The wages and benefits fiasco at Cocopa turned sour early March when workers staged a go-slow action, forcing every institution and department, including schools and the clinic on the plantation, to close down.

On Friday April 1, a go-slow action turned violent when aggrieved workers blocked the same highway, forcefully preventing all vehicles from using it.

That action turned violent when officers of the Liberia National Police’s Emergency Response Unit (ERU) arrived on the scene and attempted to disperse the crowd. The angry crowd reacted by looting the main warehouse and disturbing activities at the plantation clinic.

After the protest the Liberian government paid the workers – about 400 of them – their salary arrears.

The current protest is about unpaid salary covering the months of May thru August.

Recently, Senator Prince Y. Johnson was on a Ganta radio station appealing to the workers to remain calm as the government was making efforts to pay them.

Last week, officers of the Liberia National Police, who were ready to squash the planned demonstration, left the scene after the protest action died down.

Meanwhile, there have been no reports of any destruction during the recent protest, and Superintendent Fong Zuagele and other government officials have gone to the camp to negotiate for the reopening of the highway.

The government of Liberia took over the plantation from the previous owner, LIBCO, for what was considered bad labor practice in 2013 and since then the workers continue to experience delays in their salaries, as well as their monthly rice supply.

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