T&T minister: TCL can end up in foreign hands

(Trinidad Express) Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) is facing financial ruin as a result of strike action by workers and if not resolved shortly, the company may end up being acquired by its major shareholder, the Mexican company Cemento de Mexico (CEMEX).

This issue has been raised by Acting Prime Minister and Labour Minister Errol McLeod who said, “If a settlement is not reached between the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and TCL, (then) CEMEX a majority shareholder, could step in and get TCL for a song”.

McLeod made the statement as he delivered the feature address at the dinner and awards ceremony of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers, held last Saturday at Cara Suites Hotel, Claxton Bay.

In 1998, the government sold 20 per cent of its holdings to CEMEX, one of the largest manufacturers of cement in the world.

Ten per cent of TCL’s shares is owned by the National Insurance Board, and five per cent is held by the Unit Trust Corporation. CEMEX has twice attempted to buy TCL.

The strike at TCL in its third week, with the union rejecting a 6.5 per cent wage increase over three years offered by the company, and demanding no less that the nine per cent increase negotiated by OWTU—the same union which represented Petrotrin workers last month.

Mc Leod said at the function: “I am ready to sit and talk with both parties because the construction industry is grinding to a halt. My understanding is that the finances of the company is in a poor state and if both sides cannot bring about a closure, the entity they are fighting over is almost on the brink and could capsize at any time.”

He said: “There are calls for me to intervene. In a way that suggests that I as Minister was not involved, but the action taken is legal and conforms to the Industrial Relations Act. There must be flexibility, and I am not prepared to waste time. I am ready to sit with them because the construction industry is grinding to a halt.”

Commenting on the recent settlement of nine per cent between the OWTU and Petrotrin, McLeod said: “I agree that when our union leadership says it must not be the case of one size fitting all.”

McLeod said every negotiation brought to the Ministry would be treated and examined on its own merits. He recalled that it was the OWTU that had staved off the acquisition of the company in 2005 when attempts were made by CEMEX to buy out the shares of individual shareholders.

“When I heard about the plan we encouraged employees to purchase shares in the company. We did not have the government support at the time, but I want to register the support of the government (now),” said McLeod.


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