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Liberia: Government shutdown Rubber Processing Plant

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Following tragic death

The Government of Liberia has ordered that the Rubber Processing Plant at the Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC) remain closed until all safety measures put in place are assessed by independent technicians to ensure the safety of workers.

The action follows the recent industrial accident which led to an employee being grinded to death. 

It also came after a joint delegation of the Executive and the Senate Committee on Labour visited LAC to understand the actual circumstances that led to the industrial accident resulting in the death of the late Emmanuel Joe, an employee of the company on Saturday, August 28, 2021.

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Meeting with bereaved family members

Members of the joint delegations were: the Chairman of Senate Committee on Labour, Senator Willington Geevon Smith and Senator J. Milton Tenjay, Labour Minister, Cllr. Charles H. Gibson, Agriculture Minister Jennis Cooper, Acting Justice Minister, Nyenatee Tuan, Deputy Police Director Prince Mulbah among others.

Speaking to journalists after the day-long visit, Labour Minister Cllr. Charles H. Gibson said “We met and held discussions with the family and shared their grieved, we converted the government condolences. We held discussions with the workers union, they held their part of the story and concerns. We inspected the factory where the incident took place and concluded with a meeting with the management.” 

Minister Gibson said that during these meetings, the delegations stressed the need for the management to work along with the family to ensure the peaceful and decent burial of the deceased and were informed that there is an ongoing negotiation between the family and the management regarding benefits.

The Minister said that the Labour Ministry is going to position two technicians, the Assistant Director for Trade Union Affairs and Social dialogue, Mr. Dominic Wreh, who will work along with the Workers Union, the family, and Management to ensure that both parties arrived at a fruitful decision so that the decease is giving a decent burial as well as peace and tranquility remains at LAC.

He further explained that the Director of the Industrial Safety Department of the Ministry, Mr. Author Jimmy will conduct an assessment on safety requirements and policies at the company.

“We want to ensure that by Wednesday of next week, to determine whether the factory is safe enough for operations. But before that time, we intend to open it partially for our farmers who want to sell their rubber can have them sold and allow stock pad rubber that the company has already processed to be taking to the port before it deteriorates and buyers to refuse them. We hope that by next week, we will arrive at these objectives.”

The Liberian Labour Minister maintained that his Ministry will continue its investigations after the burial on all aspects of labor at LAC.

He opined that the accident at LAC clearly borders on cooperate negligence and as such, on the principle of defendant superior, Management takes responsibility for what its workers do. And as such, in this instance, it was a working day, there were supervisors, technicians, cleaners and whatever happened at that site, the management assumes responsibility. 

Senate Committee Chairman on Labour, Senator Willington Geevon Smith who described the discussion as fruitful noting that the safety of workers at the company was highlighted, said the senate is concerned about stability and harmony on the plantation and as such will be reporting to plenary on Tuesday on the situation at LAC.

On other issues concerning the operations and administration of the company as it relates to the aftermath of this situation, Sen. Smith said that the Ministry of Labour and line ministries responsible will conclude on that with the workers union and management. “It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour to advise on what the company should do and not to do, but I am here to report to Plenary as head of the Committee what these Ministries responsible agreed to do to restore harmony and stability at the plantation.

The Acting Justice Minister Cllr. Nyenatee Tuan said that a team from the Crime Service Division of the Liberia National Police (LNP) has been dispatched to the planation and is conducting forensic investigations into the situation.

He narrated that given the importance and concern of the government, a team of ministers was constituted to come and do an assessment to be better situated to endorse whatever that comes from the police.

He said that following the holding of meetings with the family, workers union, and management, the government is fully equipped on how their thinking can be shifted and focused.

On the question of security at the plantation, the Acting Justice Minister noted that they have met and encouraged the Workers Union to do all in their power to ensure that there should not be industrial unrest at the plantation and hope all will remain civil and respect the law noting that all conflict ends at the table.

For her part, Minister of Agriculture, Madam Jennis Cooper extended sympathy on behalf of the Agriculture family and her Ministry to the bereaved family and all workers of LAC for the loss. She said LAC has been a key partner to Liberia since 1959, especially in agriculture production and productivity.

Minister Cooper said that the Management has assumed full responsibility of all of the consequences that had come up as the result of this industrial accident.

“What we are looking forward to as a Ministry and government to see is how quickly we can resolve all of the situations that led to such an irreparable incident and start-up production in the way that it does not endanger anybody again.”

Speaking on behalf of the Workers Union, the Mother Union of the LAC Workers, the General Agriculture and Allied Workers Union of Liberia (GAAWUL), President General, Mr. James Geeve praised the Government of Liberia timely interventions and assured the government of the workers’ full cooperation in ensuring that their colleague gets a decent and peaceful burial.

He welcomed the Ministry of Labour’s efforts in ensuring that the safety of workers of the company is guarantee and safety policies are put in place to avoid a repeat of the industrial accidents and injuries at the company.

Earlier, during the meeting with the family, they requested a befitting burial of their relative. They however said that their relative will not be bury until discussions surrounding their demands to management are concluded and signed into a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The family is demanding among other things that the decease first son or child who is disabled and a first-year college student be sent outside Liberia to continue his education, while his other siblings currently in grade schools be fully educated, two plots of land be bought with the construction of three units with three bedrooms each well-furnished for the family.

The family is also demanding that three family members plus the deceased wife be provided employment by the company including cash benefits.

It could be recalled that late last week an employee of the LAC got killed as a result of an industrial accident at the rubber processing factory of the company.  

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