15 Dec 2016

Solomons govt seeks solution to long running industrial dispute

12:01 pm on 15 December 2016

The Solomon Islands government is seeking a solution to a long running industrial dispute over a massive coconut plantation operation in the country's Central Province.

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RIPEL was once the biggest company in the Solomons but has been riven with disputes between foreign owners, the government, unions, and workers for over a decade. Photo: 123RF

Russell Islands Plantation Estates Limited, or RIPEL, was one of the main economic drivers of the Solomon Islands in the late nineties to early 2000s.

Consultations by the government began this week with stakeholders and the public to find lasting solutions to the issue of whether RIPEL has a future.

The plantation previously contributed millions worth of production to the national economy per annum and employed more than 800 people before it collapsed in 2004.

Chairman of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on RIPEL Dickson Mua who is also the MP for Savo-Russels in the Central Province acknowledged that finding a way forward was not an easy task.

But he said the government was confident that a solution could be found through a consultative approach.

This process ends on Friday and a report to the Government ie expected early next year.

The cabinet sub-committee's aim is to explore the best options for the national government to address outstanding issues in a manner that is fair to all parties taking into account all competing and sometimes overlapping interests.

A row over work conditions and the style of management on the large island plantation in the immediate aftermath of several years of ethnic unrest in the country resulted in a workers' strike which quickly spiralled out of control when the company declared the strike illegal and tried to shut it down by force.

As a result RIPEL company representatives were evicted from the plantation's islands which continue to be occupied by former workers and their families.

The customary landowners of the islands, who claim their forefathers were duped into selling the islands to the RIPEL company, have also weighed in on the issue, demanding the islands be returned to them as the rightful owners.

The company representatives however have maintained for years that the islands are illegally occupied and the failure of the Solomon Islands Government and the country's police force to evict the former workers from the islands amounts to an inability to enforce the law.

Successive governments have tried and failed to find a solution to the RIPEL problem, however the current government, which is half way through its term, is adamant that resolving it is a priority.

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