By Harald Eraker
- There has been a special situation in Liberia because of the civil war. Cemenco has been a loss-making enterprise for Scancem, and we have to deal with reality. But as soon as the cement factory turns a profit, the workers in Liberia will have better conditions, says Roy Arnoldsen, responsible for Scancem's factory in Liberia.
When NorWatch met with Øyvind Steen from the Information Department, technical manager Øyvind Høydalen and Roy Arnoldsen after the trip to Liberia, Scancem's representatives presented a written overview of the salary conditions at Cemenco and other private enterprises, as well as for government employees in Liberia. The overview was made by Cemenco's controller, Pramod Gemawat.
- As you can see, our cement factory is a wage leader in the country, and this is a principle that we will adhere to. We feel that we deserve praise for keeping up production during the war years. Without us the workers would have had no jobs at all, says Arnoldsen.
- The workers' accusations against Cemenco's managing director Horst Wallwitz is also unfair. Thanks to him, the factory survived the war. The workers even got paid when the factory was closed in 1990-91, and workers who could be reached, received rice supplies these years, says Øyvind Steen.
Scancem still says it takes seriously the information gathered by NorWatch during the trip to Liberia.
- We'll focus attention on these matters, and we promise that the Norwegian management will do all it can do. When we get the second cement mill running, which has been unproductive during the war, we'll hire many new workers, say the Scancem representatives.
Scancem had mixed reactions to the visit in Liberia by NorWatch. Just before leaving the country, NorWatch was told that the workers at the cement factory were demanding higher pay, and that the management had problems getting them to work.
- We thought you were to observe the conditions at our factory. But you clearly also told the workers about conditions in Norway. This was unwise, and has created unrest among the workers, was the message NorWatch got from the economy manager Gemawat of Cemenco.
When NorWatch visited Scancem's cement company Ghacem in Ghana, the reaction was the same.
- We've been told by the headquarters in Oslo that you were stirring up agitation among the workers in Liberia, and that this has created a difficult situation for Cemenco. We're not at all interesting in you repeating this here at Ghacem, said Scancem's marketing director in Ghana, Arne Birger Johansen.
NorWatch's experience in Liberia was that talking to workers about pay and working conditions was like lifting the lid of a pressure-cooker.
- We were very surprised when you came over to us and started talking to us. You're the first person who have visited us - both at work and at home - asking about our conditions. Neither management here at Cemenco nor Norwegians from Scancem have ever cared about our life situation, said the workers.
"We challenge the trade union at Norcem to discuss the conditions at Scancem's factory in Liberia with the Aker RGI management."
Information director Steinar Lem of The Future in Our Hands Norway
The Future in Our Hands is now challenging the labor movement in Norway to look into salary and working conditions in Liberia. The organization feels that the trade union at Norcem, the Norwegian part of Aker RGI's cement division, has a special responsibility for their colleagues in Liberia.
- Norcem is part of the large corporation Aker RGI, which has enormous yearly profits, among other things from their cement operations in Africa. We hope that the trade union at Norcem will respond to this challenge in the wake of our studies in Liberia, and show that international solidarity still has a concrete meaning in the Norwegian labor movement, says information director Steinar Lem of The Future in Our Hands.
The trade union at Norcem has previously helped to improve the workers' conditions in Liberia. When the civil war was raging at its worst at the beginning of the '90s, the union sent 1,500 US dollars as emergency relief, money that was distributed among the workers.
Norwatch Newsletter 14/97