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As junior staff down tools SLARI stifles food security

As junior staff down tools SLARI stifles food security

Food Security has been a key manifesto promise of successive governments, which is yet to see the light of day.

In the mid 80s the then former military-turned civilian Head of State Joseph Saidu Momoh, declared the infamous “Green Revolution”, which never came to fruition. Under the current dispensation, President Julius Maada Bio, a retired Brigadier-General, has launched the Torma Bum Rice Development Project, which aims at developing 12, 500 acres of land in the river rain grassland area of Torma Bum, to increase rice production in the country and help bridge the gap between local demand for and supply of rice.

Notwithstanding these lofty endeavors, a majority of Sierra Leoneans go to bed on empty stomachs, while the Government pumps millions of dollars in subsidizing the importation of rice.

Admonishing the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, HE the President told Dr Abu Bakarr Karim to ensure food security in the country.

Against the spirit of this background, the Management of the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI), appears to stifle the efforts of Government by causing the junior staff in all the seven centers of the institution to embark on an industrial action, thereby grounding field work and hampering the potential for the production of agricultural products, especially rice.

Coming at the peak time of production, when the rains are just around the corner, the irate junior staff has vowed to not resume work until the Management, headed by the Director General, Dr Mathew L. S. Gboku (in photo), addresses what they describe as appalling conditions of service.

“We intend to go on strike until our conditions are addressed satisfactorily” a group of striking staff told Sierra Express Media.

“We are the least paid Government workers” said Abu Bakarr Sankoh, Shop Steward at the HQ in Freetown. 

Mr Sankoh disclosed that regardless of qualification and length of service, all junior staff receive a take-home pay of Le750, 000.00, which he said includes “Le25,000.00 as rent allowance; Le 78,000.00 for medical; Le 39, 000.00 for dirty work and Le 80,000.00 for transport”.

Sankoh also accused the Management of “intimidation, victimization and unfair treatment”.

Even though by law junior staff conditions of service should be negotiated every five years, it took ten years before the last negotiations in 2020, which they said did not yield any fruit.

Other burning issues which Management has been accused of reneging on are the non-provision of implements and safety gears such as rain boots, gloves and torchlights for the field workers and security, respectively; and the non- promotion of staff. “Promotion is by the good books of the boss not by qualification”, Admin Officer, Alpha Mattia is quoted as saying.

Speaking on the issue, the Secretary General of the Junior Staff Union, Muluku Sullaimn Tarawalie reiterated that until Management meets their demands, the strike action would continue.  “Our demands are numerous”, he said, adding that some of the issues span over 5 years.

Mr Sulaiman particularly raised the issue of the deduction of full 15% contributions for National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) from junior staff salary for nearly three years or more, and the refusal of Management to refund the 10% the employer should duly pay.

When contacted, the Director General, Dr Mathiew Gboku in a rather unprofessional tone, refused to give his side of the story. “I will not comment, I don’t care”, he said.

By Emmanuel M. Kamara

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