By; VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
Over 50 pregnant women had lost their lives with their unborn babies as a result of inhuman and barbaric activities meted on them by the management of Wilmar PZ Nigeria, managers of palm oil plantations in Cross River State since 2012 till date..
This shocking disclosure was made by a victim and staff of the company, Mrs. Patience Edet Etim in an interview with newsmen at the headquarters of the company at Mistaking in Akamkpa Local Government Area of Cross River State.
It would be recalled that the Cross River State House of Assembly Committee on Agriculture visited Betem and Mbarakom host communities in Biase and Akamkpa local government as part of its oversight functions..
She said “ever since I started work with Wilmar in 2012, there is nothing like maternity leave .Pregnant women have been assigned to drive tractors even when they are pregnant. As I am talking to you many of our women have died with their unborn babies. They are in the grave. They have lost their lives, lost their jobs because of the harsh treatment they get from the Wilmar management”
“Till date, there is nothing like leave allowance of any kind paid to staff in this or any other form of allowance. I started work in 2012”, she lamented.
“The families of these women who lost their lives in active service were not compensated either. It is an experience to have, she added”.
The management through the help of the black managers treat us like second class citizens especially women working in these plantations.
Sadly too, “the company doesn’t allow workers to unionise. The only union here s meant for the top cadre managers. Any time there is an issue or problem that needed to be solved, there will be nobody to speak or present our matter, hence we agitated for a union as well as elect our leaders”.
The formation of junior staff union sparked off very hard resistance from management, hence “the recent arrest, intimidation and sacking of many staff under this umbrella, she added”.
Some of the staff were sacked because they belonged or spoke on behalf of the union including me the women leader with my pregnancy “.
“As I speak to you I was sacked without receiving any kobo but because I took our matter to the Cross River State House of Assembly concerning how the company is treating the works and women that is just my offence and I was sacked, she said “.
She called the Cross River State government to help to compel Wilmar management to pay us our entitlement as well as stop all the inhuman treatments meted on the indigenous workers.
“There should be a condition of service for the workers as well as allow them to unionise. Currently, the workers are poorly paid and have no future, she said”. Unfortunately, she said, “it is our black brother that are responsible for our woes. They are the one that spoil the white men. They have polluted them and here we are suffering for what we don’t know”.
Also narrating his ordeal, a victim, Johnson Bassey, from Mbarakom community, “said I am the leader of the workers in this estate with over 3,000 workers. I have been with Wilmar when the old palms were been fell down, and we were made to understand that there is “Standard Operation Procedure” which the never allowed staff to sight up till this present, “.
He said “it is sad to note that staff are not been treated well here.. We have lost so many souls in this plantation”.
“We had had cases where trucks capsides and people died including pregnant women. How much did the management give, just #50,000 to bury them. I had worked for seven years and I was paid just #45,000 as pension. Is this how I will survive, marry and build a house?, he added.
The company has been using the Nigerian Army and police to harass and intimidate workers from time to time, he lamented.
Reacting to these issues, the chairman of the Committee, Hon. Charles Ekpe, representing Akamkpa 2 state constituency, said we came here in respect of the complaint raised by workers and host communities before the Assembly.
“Today, we are here to hear from host communities and workers and will go back to study the various reports and findings with a hope of resolving it amicably, he said”.
He said that the committee had extracted a very serious commitment from Wilmar management and hoped that it will be resolved.
Sources close to the Assembly, revealed that “there is a high level politicking going on in favour of Wilmar management”.
The Committee members were alleged to have been working for the former governor Senator Liyel Imoke, who is believed to own the largest share.
Efforts. to talk to the general manager of the company proved abortive.