Salala Rubber Corp Shuts Down After Violent Protest

WEALA, Margibi – After some workers of the Salala Rubber Corporation staged a violent protest at the company’s office in Weala, the company shut down operations immediately.

The closure leaves over 800 workers’ fate uncertain after the June 27 protest. The company announced the closure of its operations because of a decision taken by the European-based SOCFIN group that owns and operates the plantation.

The upheaval saw senior personnel and staff being manhandled, death threats issued, and company properties destroyed through burning, smashing, and looting.

In a memo issued on June 29, SRC’s management informed all employees of the decision and said they would receive appropriate end-of-service compensation by law. The Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Labor, and the General Agricultural and Allied Workers Union Liberia were also copied in the memo.

The workers, mainly rubber tappers, besieged the main administrative compound and residential complex of the senior management of SRC to demand better working conditions.

They ransacked the company’s warehouse and looted the administrative office, which contained a warehouse filled with rice and other valuables.

Photo courtesy: Sakajipo Chea

The workers’ action followed a week-long protest against what they said was an “unfair deduction of 20 percent of wet rubber weight,” which has negatively impacted their monthly production target of 1,700 kilograms.

They had also been protesting for better housing and adequate medical care for their families.

The latest protest that turned violent followed a recent dialogue between the top management of the company and the workers’ union to address some of the immediate demands while awaiting a formal collective backing agreement with the management.

Before the company announced the closure, some protesters who spoke anonymously due to fear of reprisal accused the SRC general manager, Ajith Kumar, and the plantation manager, Sangeeth Sathyan, of inhumane treatment of the workforce.

The workers had demanded the unconditional resignation of Kumar and Sathyan, who are both Indian nationals.

Margibi’s assistant commissioner of police, Godstine Harlie, told The Bush Chicken that at least ten suspects had been arrested and a few bags of looted rice retrieved.

Harlie said most of the key suspects involved in the protest and arson attack on the company’s facilities are still on the run, and the police were pursuing them to ensure they are arrested.

In addition to unfair labor practices, the workers are also accusing SRC of sexual exploitation of women working on its plantation, coupled with accusations of land grabbing from traditional villagers.

Featured photo courtesy of Sakajipo Chea

Emmanuel Degleh

Emmanuel has over a decade of experience working as a community radio broadcaster. He is the Margibi correspondent for the Liberia Broadcasting System and the Manager for Classic FM 93.9 MHz, one of Liberia’s leading community radio stations. Emmanuel is also a member of the Press Union of Liberia and a 2016 Internews Health Journalism Fellow.

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