4 December 2012

Liberia: Former BMMC Workers to Strike

Former Bong Mining Company's workers have threatened to form a "human chain" to obstruct the movements of trains on the Bong Mines-Monrovia railway. The blockade, which begins today, is intended to draw government's attention and compel it to make the settlement of arrears owed them.

They told a news conference Monday that they were already overwhelmed by failed negotiations (talking shop) which have produced no results. The former BMC workers, in their hundreds, are demanding severance pay from government in the tune of US$9 million since the company was compelled to shut down due to conflict in 1990.

"We are forming a human chain on the railway from Bong Town to Monrovia disallowing trains on route to and from Bong Mines," said Elder Wleh Davies, spokesman for the workers. According to 70-year old Davies, they've had been promises on numerous occasions from government to make settlement of their arrears to no avail.

For years now, former BMC's employees and government were locked into series of negotiations on the settlement of arrears, but there have since been no results on the matter. The Bong Mining Company, which closed down because of the 24 December 1989 rebellion, was founded by Thyssen (Germany), and established in 1958 in Liberia.

BMC is a German-Italian-owned concession, which built a substantial mining complex to surface mine the iron ore from the mountain range just on the west side of Bong County. Notably, the company constructed and maintained one of Liberia's main rail lines to the remote site to ship the iron ores from the mountains.

About attempts by the former BMC workers to block the railway, it would cause a serious economic setback because the rail is operating alongside full 80km route, from the jetty in Monrovia (just beyond the Free Port) up to Bong Mine Town.

It runs a passenger service four days a week known as the commercial service, and freight six days a week known as the industrial service. The freight leaves Monrovia first, about 0830hrs, with the passenger close behind.

They return from Bong Mine Town in the same order, about 1500hrs or 1600hrs to get back to Monrovia before dark. There is no signaling, and the trains are regulated by radio to each locomotive.

The passenger train carries people and produce, stopping frequently, bringing back such things as charcoal, fruits and vegetables for sale in the capital. There are no roads following the same route, so it is well used. It generally consists of the three home-made passenger coaches (old bus bodies on flat trucks -- one more under construction) and four or five flat trucks.

Since 2009, the China Union Investment Company concession has begun to rebuild the complex and the construction of a new paved road southward to Kakata. As of June 2012, the road has about 1/5 of its total distance covered with pavement with one small bridge under active construction just outside Kakata.

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