Strike stops all work at Trinidad Cement Ltd

(Trinidad Express) All operations at Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) shut down on Monday when workers walked off the job when the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) served strike notice on the company after a breakdown in wage talks.

Carlton Gibson, vice president of the OWTU, delivered notices to the management of TCL and Trinidad Packaging Limited (TPL), at Claxton Bay around 11 a.m.

The company’s 600 workers were instructed to clear their desks and evacuate the building immediately, to begin strike action. By midday the plant was closed and the gates locked.

Delivery trucks, which were lined up for goods, were turned away as no cement was being loaded to distribute to customers.

Gibson said: “Our concern is what will happen to the construction industry. We thought management would have understood and ensure that there is a decent settlement. Cement has a shelf life and I do not know they can stock cement for any length of time. I am sure that within one week there will be a severe shortage of cement in Trinidad and Tobago. I hope TCL is a reasonable and sensible management and they put country’s interest before personal interest.”

OWTU president general, Ancel Roget, was not present as he is attending a conference in Switzerland.

The union has rejected the company’s proposal of 6.5 per cent offer for over a three year period, and is seeking a 16 per cent wage increase. The period being negotiated is 2009 to 2011.

Gibson said the union would not settle for a package below double digit figures.

The union is also negotiating an improved package for casual workers.

Gibson said: “In TCL there are many vacancies and a lot of casual workers. We are trying to fill those vacancies and we are also dealing with their treatment of casual workers. These workers do not enjoy the same benefits as permanent workers in terms of pay on public holidays, Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

The TCL Group was aware of the union’s intention to serve strike notice, Gibson said.

“The company knew that at the end of talks the plant would have been shutdown because there would be no one to operate the plant. A responsible management would have shutdown the plant before this morning,” he said.

Gibson said the strike notices served on TCL and TPL were with immediate effect, while the notice served on Petrotrin two weeks ago provided a three-day period for the company to take plant and machinery offline.

“At Petrotrin there is a stipulated time period for the company to be given notice to bring the plants down. But in the case of TCL there are no such instructions,” Gibson said.

However, the strike at Petrotrin was averted when the company and union brokered an eleventh hour wage deal with workers getting a nine per cent wage increase. Gibson said the TCL strike is expected to continue for 90 days.

“But nothing prevents parties from meeting during the strike to continue discussions to bring a resolution to this issue,” he said.

Gibson said if the matter remained unresolved after 90 days, the union will go to the industrial court for final determination. As the strike action began yesterday, Gibson reminded workers that management would use tactics to lure them back into the compound.

He said the police would also be used to intimidate workers.

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