15 February 2013

Liberia: Company Defends Foreign Workers' Employment

The Management of the Cavala Ruber Company (CRC) and the Maryland Oil Plantation Project (MPP) also called SIFCA appeared before lawmakers in Monrovia yesterday to defend themselves against claims that the amalgamated companies were engaged in bad labour practices in Plebo Sodoken, Maryland County.

The latest development came after allegations by Rep. Bhofal Chambers that the companies were engaged in bad labour practices and other ills including the employment of foreigners at the detriment of citizens in the county.

The situation apparently resulted to a recent protest in which police officers in the county arrested several young people protesting against the company's employment scheme and related issues.

In his letter to the House, Rep. Chambers accused the company of engaging in "massive dismissal of local staff and replacing them with foreigners" from neighbouring Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

"SIFCA has been in the constant habit of dismissing our people. Many of our people in the management positions do not exist. The Managing Director, Comptroller and Plant Manger are all non-Liberians or non-Marylanders.

"We have written SIFCA repeatedly to find a way forward in creating jobs for our people but to no avail. They have failed to do so.

The people of Maryland County are bleeding. They are crying! If they cannot be heard by us, where will they go?" Rep. Chambers questioned.

He alleged that the company has failed to attend to the needs of the people as enshrined in the concessionaire agreement with the government. According to him, the medical facility provided by them in the county does not have any single doctor.

"The medical facility that is there does not have a single doctor. People that got sick on the job were dismissed. A woman was dismissed as a result of her pregnancy; this is against the international labour law," he said as he displayed the dismissal letter of the pregnant woman.

He also said some of the security guards at the company's premises carry arms and often intimidate the citizens. "It appears to me that Plebo has become a salve camp where any investor can go and do what they want.

"Many of the young people are fired on a constant basis. We are tired with the practices of SIFCA," he said.

But in response, John Y. Barkemeni, Deputy Managing Director of the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation, a conglomerate of the three companies denied the claims.

He explained that the government's inability to provide land to plant their oil products

as promised in the concession agreement has led the company to carry out a lay-off plan for areas where the old rubber trees were cut down to plant palm trees.

"This has led us to the constraint of cutting down the old rubber

trees. Of course, this would affect some jobs. However, we are doing our best to reduce the effect," Mr. Barkemeny


He however admitted employing a Nigerian and other foreigners on a short-term basis, saying the foreign workers were being encouraged to train their local counterparts who will eventually take over from them.

"These people are not here to stay. They are here to train our people who would take after them when they leave," he clarified.

Regarding to the issue of the dismissal of the pregnant woman, Mr. Barkemeny admitted that the decision was taken in "error," saying management had earlier ratified the decision by reinstating the woman.

"With regards to the hospital, we are ready to hire a doctor today if he or she will be willing to leave Monrovia and stay in Maryland," he emphasized.

At the end of his testimony, the lawmakers mandated members of the House' Committee on Agriculture to conduct a field tour to the company's site and independently investigate the matter and report to them within a week.

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