Ramu workers go on rampage

National, Normal

The National – Tuesday, July 5, 2011

MORE than 1,000 wor­kers on strike at the multi-million kina Ramu Agri-Industries Ltd oil palm project in Gusap Downs, Ramu Valley, destroyed company properties yesterday after the mill management failed to address their grievances.
Gusap police station commander Insp Adam Busil and his men had to calm down the angry workers after they had cut through the fence into the mill site and started destroying company properties.
Busil said he had warned the workers that their strike was an industrial matter and it was up to the company management to respond to their demands. But if they started to destroy properties or harass people, then police would deal with them, he said.
The workers from the first, second, third and fourth divisions of the oil palm project, after waiting in vain for the management to address their grievances, went on the rampage claiming that their petition had not been attended to after lodging it last week.
They claimed to have waited at the oil palm estate at Gusap Downs since last Saturday but the management at Ramu sugar estate in Ramu town, several kilometers away, did not respond directly but instead sent the union representatives to talk to them.
They said their main grievances were low pay, lack of safety gear, inadequate housing allowances, entitlements and death benefits.
They said they received an hourly rate of K1.78 and a harvest target of 120 fruit bunches at 0.12 toea per bunch for eight hours daily. The workers claimed that they usually harvested more than 120 bunches under harsh conditions at times but were paid for only 120.
They said they were not issued with footwear or hand gloves as the dried oil palm leaves and stalks were very sharp.
Attempts to get comments from the company management yesterday were unsuccessful.
Flowers and trees in the lawn outside the mill were cut down and a fallen tree was laid across the main entrance into the mill.
A section of the wire fence was cut and glass windows of the main mill office, an oil analysis laboratory and a weighbridge reading panel were smashed and a computer screen removed.
A truck parked outside the office also had its windscreen smashed and a pile of paper was placed under the fuel tank ready to be lit.
Signboards were torn and debris were scattered along the main oil palm road leading into the mill.
The glass window of a butcher retail outlet nearby was smashed with rocks and beef from the abattoir was removed before the looters were stopped by police.