6 December 2012

Liberia: Heed the Cries of Former Bong Mines Workers


No employee could have readily predicted that the landing of a special Lufthansa flight at Bong Mines late May 1990 to evacuate German nationals and other expat employees from Bong Town after rebels of the defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia invaded the modern lifestyle flourishing there signaled the beginning of Bong Mines' collapse and subsequent suffering for thousands of Liberian workers.

But when the last batch of expatriate employees fled Bong Mines late August 1990 in a convoy comprising dozens of vehicles that had been secured in a special tunnel, it was clearly becoming evident that Liberian workers were heading for trouble. What trouble? Job loss and difficulties in receiving pay areas and monetary benefits due them by the management of Bong Mines.

However, they later saw an elected government in 1997 as a light at the end of the tunnel as the regime of President Charles tried to persuade the management of Bong Mining Company at its headquarters in Germany to return and revive the firm. But the company saw no convincing reason to return, and instead officially turned over its remaining assets at the concession site to the government.

Hopes appeared revived when Bong Mines, which paid its employees in US dollars up to its invasion by NPFL rebels in May 1990, was generous to remit approximately US$14 million to government in salary arrears and benefits covering ten years (May 1990-May 2000) for its workers who suddenly became jobless due to the man-made calamity (rebel invasion).

Fortunately for them, members of the Union of former Bong Mines Workers have always held together and exerted persistent pressure on central government for their money.

After government affirmed receipt of the money, another discouraging news surfaced that President Taylor had decided to shortchange them by paying them in Liberian currency, but at the rate of one greenback to 3 Liberty dollars as was in May 1990 when the company was forced to shut.

Nevertheless, members of the Bong Mines workers union, already subjected to severe hardship for tens years, decided to swallow the pill by agreeing to accept the 3 to 1 rate once their money was paid in lump-sum, despite the fact that one greenback to 35 Liberty dollars was then the prevailing rate under Taylor's regime.

But the government partially paid their arrears, leaving an outstanding of US$8.9 million for which hundreds of former workers, widows and children of deceased beneficiaries are today up in arms demanding payment from government.

They've fruitlessly protested many times under the scorching sun and downpour in Monrovia and Bong Mines, which is presently poised for production under a multimillion agreement between China Union and the government. The aggrieved former workers have become indefatigable and begun occupying the Bong Mines railways vowing they will continue the sit-in until their complaint is appropriately addressed through money.

If the money was inadvertently misapplied, we suggest a fair way forward would be its immediate restoration and payment in order to mitigate the suffering these people have borne for more than two decades with tears flowing. Wiping their tears will no doubt guarantee tranquillity at Bong Mines as China Union begins iron ore exploitation expansive in Fuama District of Lower Bong County. Remember: A stitch in time is better than nine.

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