Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County – Workers at the Mano Palm Oil Plantation, formerly Sime Darby Plantation (SDPL) have begun a 21-day protest, requesting the company and the Government to live by the contractual agreement they signed with SDPL.
The workers have further threatened to shut down the company’s operations as of March 12, 2020, if their requests are ignored.
The workers’ action comes less than three months following the acquisition of the Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SDPL) from its parent company based in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Sime Darby Plantation, the world’s largest oil palm producer by acreage, in January this year announced that it has sold Liberia operation for a token US$1 plus an earn-out payment to Mano Palm Oil Industries, a local Liberian company.
The earn-out payment, Sime Darby Plantation said, will be determined by the average future crude palm oil price and future CPO output from the unit, while payment from Mano Palm Oil Industries will be made quarterly over eight years starting April 2023.
The deal marked the end of Sime Darby Plantation’s venture that was incurring loss since its inception and worsened by a 2017-2018 slump in palm oil prices.
The company said apart from weak prices, it grappled with high cost, lower-than-expected yields due to extremely dry weather conditions, and disruption caused by an outbreak of diseases and demonstrations by workers and affected community members in demand of just benefit from time-to-time.
Sime Darby Plantation had signed a 63-year concession agreement with the Liberian government in 2009 to develop 220,000 hectares in northwest Liberia into oil palm and rubber plantations. The company, however, had planted only over 10,300 hectares due to various challenges.
Meanwhile, it appears that some of the problems that grappled Sime Darby are now surfacing at the new company, specifically the menace of workers’ strike.
What Are Their Demands?
The workers including members of the Project Affected Communities (PAC), in a statement, outlined a list of demand ranging from a formal introduction of the Mano Oil Palm (MPOP) to the Project Affected PAC by the Government and continuation of the agreements the community reached with SDPL.
According to them, the PAC and Sime Darby entered into several agreements covering benefits, education, and health, among others, and as such, they expected the Government, Sime Darby and the new company to sit with them to discuss the implementation of those agreements.
“The Government has not done any formal introduction, and the PAC does not know what is enshrined in the new agreement,” PAC Chairman, Abraham Kromah told FrontPageAfrica via mobile phone.
Against this backdrop, Kromah said the PAC is requesting the company to state in the presence of the Government, whether it will live up to the Concession Agreement and the memorandum of understanding it signed with the SDPL.
“The Concession Agreement [with SDPL) states that top managerial positions should be given to PAC members but as it stands, there is no PAC member as superintendent or manager and, therefore, we call on the Government of Liberia to ensure that MPOP employs some PAC members in said positions,” PAC’s Chairman Abraham Kromah said.
Chairman Kromah further stated that there are more than 12,000 residents within the PAC but only 609 are employed, while contracts are given to outsiders.
He called on the Elder Council to prevail on the Government of Liberia for MPOP to give contracts to citizens of the affected communities.
The aggrieved party also wants the new company to give an update on the ‘Participatory Mapping’ exercise conducted by SDPL before leaving Liberia. According to Chairman Kromah, the mapping exercise was conducted to clearly point out the total land space being occupied by the company currently and how much the company will pay as land rental fees and cultural endowment fund.
But following the exercise, SDPL left without disclosing the outcome of the mapping and the payment of the fund.
“SDPL didn’t give any information on the participatory mapping before exiting Liberia. The PAC wants to be updated on the mapping exercise and who will be responsible to pay the Cultural Endowment Fund as of 2021, and also to know the PAC’s total land space,” Kromah added.
He explained that teachers have not been paid for two months, and when they inquired, they were told that the school was turned over to the Government by SDPL.
The situation, according to Kromah, has led the school to an abrupt closure. He wants the Government to confirm the company’s claim and take appropriate measures to reopen the school.
In addition, the PAC further stated that the concession agreement with Sime Darby called for the training of Liberians to take up a top managerial position, but with the acquisition of the plantation by Mano Oil Palm, the process is now in limbo.
Kromah alleged that the PAC members were often denied scholarships by SDPL who favor outsiders. However, they want the trend to be reversed for residents of the concession communities to benefit.
He also revealed that SDPL promised to undertake an out-grower scheme for communities aimed at empowering farmers and offering them some of the already planted areas to the PAC, but the SDPL did not live up to the said promise.
He is also requesting an update on the status of the out-grower scheme.
Another contentious issue is the rice ration the PAC alleged the company has cut off.
The PAC said the company’s decision to stop the rice ration “depicts that they do not want citizens to survive.”
According to them, the company usually gives four 25kg of rice but has decided to cut it down to 2-25kg.
Kromah urged the citizens to resist MPOP’s decision, stating that PAC’s Employees are willing to take any deduction but will not accept MPOP decision to halt the second bag.
Government’s Prompt Intervention
Meanwhile, FPA has learned that a high-power government delegation led by officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Liberian National Police and Grand cape Mount County Senator Victor Varney Watson, in a bid to abort the strike, met with the PAC members and the company to amicably resolved the situation.
According to sources, the workers agreed to cutoff the strike for a week to allow the mediation process to take place.
When contacted, PAC Chairman Kromah welcome the Government’s intervention and said the intent of the strike is not to cripple the company but to ensure the right things are done.