Guthrie Plantations, which was recently a scene of relentless violent demonstrations, has become very peaceful since government turned the plantations over to Sime Darby, a Malaysian Company on Jan. 2, 2010.
Guthrie is situated in Bomi County about 80 kilometers east of the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Prior to the takeover of Guthrie Sime Darby, workers of the plantations staged series of demonstrations in demand of salary arrears and improved working conditions.
The action by the workers of the plantation made the area ungovernable as well as paralyzing normal working activities in the area.
According to workers, since Sime Darby took over so many things have positively changed in the area. The workers described the decision by the government to turn the plantations to the Malaysian company as salutary.
“Since Sime Darby took over this plantation, just three weeks ago, some significant improvements have been made. The road has been well paved, if you visit our clinic you will see some improvement there, a brand new ambulance has been bought, the beddings at the hospital have been replaced by new ones,” Mr. Moses Kerkula, Estate Manager, told The New Dawn.
“Sime Darby is mostly interested in the oil sector. The company is to transform Guthrie Plantations to Oil plantations. The company will cut down the rubber trees plant palm trees. “But to avoid putting the thousands of workers out of job, we have decided to exploit the old rubber trees until the oil nurseries get ready for planting,” Boima Samii, Liaison Officer of Sime Darby, said.
The Malaysian company has already taken more than a thousand of the old workers who are presently on probation for a possible employment. “When the company came they provided rice to the employees, and they started issuing them ID cards. The company inherited two thousands two hundred and twenty five employees, of which, they have employed approximately 16 hundreds plus.
The strategy is, in order for them to employ new people they have to complete the absorption of the current work force of 2,225. Those who want to work will definitely be employed. We will employ them on stages.
For the salary, the company came and met a structure in place and all of the employees are on three months assignment after which, they will be evaluated. It is like probationary period because they have to do an assessment of their own men power needs,” Samii stated.
Though Sime Darby has just taken over the plantations, already the workers have noticed a significant difference. “Our tappers previously were not given buckets, and other material supplies for tapping, now they have been given those things. Each the tappers have two buckets; tapping knives are issued, in fact there are rations given to workers for which they did not work for,” Kerkula further told The New Dawn.
Prince Golay, an ordinary tapper, says that Sime Darby is treating the workers “the right way.” In a very happy mood, he told The New Dawn that, “changes have occurred in our lives since the arrival of Sime Darby. What Sime Darby is doing for us when our friend black people were here they were not doing it for us. Like materials, when we were tapping here for the government there were no buckets.
“We use to collect rubber in the bush, acid wasting on our skin, when we ask for buckets they will say that no bucket is coming. To get food on time was a big problem. Now get food before we start work. Before you have to reach 400 pounds before you get rice, now we get rice from the beginning and we do things on our own. Now we are free. I am happy because now there is free car to carry the students to school.”
Rubber theft was the main nightmare for the old administration of Guthrie Plantations. For Prince, that was due to the bad treatment they received.
“Government was not doing anything for us, reason why rubber theft was carried on, but now that we are well taken care of there will be no stealing of rubber. Right now every rubber I get I bring it to Sime Darby because I am pleased with the manner in which they are taking care of us.” He said.
Some Bomi citizens believe that they should be given the privilege when it comes to employment. But the Liaison Officer of Sime Darby has different view.
“We should look at this in a holistic manner, that Liberia first because we begin to go along those lines. But one thing I can assure you, if the citizenry from where Sime Darby is operating, if they meet the requirements, they will be hired,” Boima Samii said.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian company has promised free education and free health for all its employees. “Health and education is a priority, this is why we have undertaken the rehabilitation of the school as you can see, and we are in the process of completing the resource center.
Also the health area, we are right now in the process of finding a location to build a hospital. And also to expend the existing facilities we have and we have already contracted a doctor that will come here three times a week that we will be referring our patients to. There will be 100% health and education for our workers throughout,” the Liaison Officer added.