MONROVIA-Former employees, grandchildren, and family members of former employees of the erstwhile National Iron Ore Company, (NIOC) are crying on the CDC-led government and partners to address issues relating to benefits the Liberian Government and Western Cluster owed them.
Mr. James T. Mafarlon, Chairman of the former workers described as inhumane treatment given to the local employees at the time. “After the civil war, the company paid off all expatriates, including their plane tickets to countries of origin, and the balance cash was deposited into the government`s account to settle payments of the local employees, till now, not a cent has been paid to anyone.”
“Some of the former employees are dying in abject poverty. When we noticed that the government is delaying paying, a court action was taken against the government by the workers at the People`s Debt Court. The decision was ruled in favor of the workers that all be paid their just benefits, including 6% interest to every dollar in United States dollar.”
“We are not going to cease our advocacy, we will not sleep until benefits owed to the former employees are paid. We are watching keenly during this election nearing period to vote out people that have stood in our way, denying us our just benefits,” he told the Liberian people when he appeared on local radio in Monrovia on Monday. McFarland said, after the government at the time admitted in 2001 that it has used the money intended to pay the workers’ severance pay, the government signed a promissory note stating that in the event the company does not resume operations as expected, all assists of the would-be sold and proceeds paid to the workers.
Mr. Marfarlon indicated that the promissory note, a copy of which is the possession of this, it further revealed that for any company that would succeed NIOC, any upfront payment made to the government would be used to settle payments of all severance and other benefits of the workers from 1985 up to 2001. With that, out of 100%, only 1% of that was paid.
In an attempt to seek further redress, the group has officially filed a complaint to the international community through the Embassies of the Government of the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, the donor community, including the World Bank country office, International Finance Corporation, and the African Development Bank, to intervene and avoid confrontations.
Marfarlon said it is frustrating to know that the untimely shutdown of the company on March 31, 1985, only to blame it on the low price of iron ore on the world market, is a calculated plan to deny Liberia workers of severance and other benefits, thereby subjecting them to abject poverty and disease.
The General Chairman further lamented: “There are widows, children, and grandchildren who are lingering across the country in abject poverty, some of whom that acquired their education under unbearable conditions. Also, some of our colleagues who were parents and grandparents have died out of frustration while expecting the government to pay us all after we have all outlived our usefulness working for the company over the years.”
With the rising cost of goods and services, impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, an underprivileged group, including women and children residing in a former mining community in northern Grand Cape Mount County described living conditions as unbearable and is worsening day by day.
Nearly 250km northwest of Monrovia, Kongoe, the former mining community in Mano River is among several rural communities across the country that the COVID-19 vaccine is yet to be administered. Bad roads, and a lack of basic social services, including safe drinking water, quality education and healthcare facilities, are several challenges facing the community.
Some of the women from Kongoe community residents and family members of former employees of the then National Iron Ore Company (NIOC) converged in Monrovia to protest against a successor company that they believed owed them severance pay and other arrears.
The NIOC which was principally owned by the Government of Liberia commenced mining operations in the 1960s and shut down mining and shipping operations in March 1985 due to the low price of ore on the international market.
Speaking recently when the group converged at the offices of Western Cluster in Monrovia, to remember loved ones who were victims in the 1982 No-Way-Camp landslide where more than 1,000 died, Madam Konnah King asserts that she and her children are being hardly hit by the impact of the virus, citing lack of safe drinking water, and money to send her children to school.
Konnah, 63, mother of eight children and also the grandmother of eight, says women, children and the elderly are drinking from open water wells, citing an increase in waterborne diseases.
“We are drinking from open wells every day. We and our children along with our grandchildren are always having running stomachs.”
The widow whose husband, a former employee of the then NOIC died while running after the same severance benefits, adds that Kongoe community residents are not beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Konnah lamented: “We did not take the COVID-19 vaccine that people are talking about all around here. Since we do not have good clinics in the community, when we get sick, we are always treated in the homes of community health workers [black bag holders]. Any medicine that they give us, it is what we take.”
“Since my husband died in 2012, it has been very hard for me to send my children and grandchildren to school. My husband left running behind this severance pay, and he didn`t get a cent before he got sick and died.
Alice Dossen, daughter of the late David Slober in the control room of the company at the time, laments that her father was waiting for the much talked about severance pay, he labored to feed the family.
“My father labored doing odd jobs just to feed his children, and he later got sick and died from a cold. My mother has also come down with strokes. I am struggling with her to get treatment because there is no health center in Kongoe. Right now, she being treated in the home of a gentleman (black bag man),” Alice said with tears in her eyes.
When the company was then closing down in 1985, all the 1,820 employees of company did not receive any severance and other fringe benefits. Based upon this, an agreement was reached with the workers that they would be reemployed upon the resumption of operation by NIOC or Successor Company, which is not the case as promised in the agreement.