Cocopa Workers Set Roadblock Again

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Workers at the Cocopa Plantation in Nimba County have set a new roadbloack on the main highway linking Ganta and Saclepea with the southeastern region in demand of their four months’ salary arrears.

The action began early Monday, September 19, and has brought the movements of vehicles to a standstill.

The angry workers said this time around they would not listen to any appeal to give the Liberian government a chance to pay the arrears because they say the government has failed to live up to its promise to pay them since their plight first came to its attention.

The angry workers have threatened to take serious action against anyone who dares to force their way through the roadblock.

Traveler Nathan S. Menkehmen called Radio Saclapea early Monday morning to explain the drama and described the anger demonstrated by the aggrieved workers.

“They are very angry and do not appear to be compromising; all they want is their salary arrears and their benefits,” he said.

He quoted some of the workers as saying that their children are not in school and that the schools at the plantation are still closed.
Since the recent wave of protests, some of the workers have relocated their families to other communities as operations at the plantation broke down.

The homes of several managers as well the main office were burglarized, according to eyewitnesses.

The senior staff at the plantation have fled to Ganta for their own safety, leaving the entire plantation vulnerable.

Officers of the Liberia National Police are on standby in Flumpa, observing the situation and waiting for an order to respond.

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

A go-slow action on Friday, April 1, 2016, turned violent when the aggrieved workers blocked the same highway, stopping all vehicles from plying the highway.

The situation got worse when officers of the Liberia National Police’s Emergency Response Unit arrived at the scene and tried to disperse the crowd to allow vehicles to pass.

Then, the Liberian government calmed the situation down by paying the 400 workers.

The remaining workforce resumed work in May this year; however, the ensuing four months saw delays in their salary arrears, which prompted a new wave of protests

According to one of the protesting workers, Nimba County’s Supt. Fong Zuagele and other local government officials intervened and calmed the workers down, promising some kind of response from the government before September 16, but the promise did not materialize.

The saga began in 2013 when the government of Liberia took over the plantation from its previous owner, LIBCO, through a court order due to bad labor practice.
Since then the workers have faced delays in receiving their salaries, along with their monthly supply of rice.

Meanwhile, Senator Thomas Grupee intervened and promised the workers that the government would settle the arrears last Monday. Also, late last week, a senior Cocopa staff member, Joseph Kiapee, said the management was putting things together to start distribution of rice today, Tuesday, September 20.

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