(Trinidad Guardian) With 17 days before Christmas, ArcelorMittal has sent home 600 workers with immediate effect.
However, Christopher Henry, president of the Steel Workers Union of T&T which represents the workers said the matter would be placed in the hands of its lawyers and may be heading to court for a final outcome.
Henry addressed workers at the union’s California headquarters yesterday hours after the workers were sent home and recalled only weeks ago the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert was saying there would be no blue Christmas.
He said ArcelorMittal not only laid off 800 contract workers earlier this year but sent home 600-plus permanent workers weeks before Christmas.
In confirming the lay-offs, the company, in a statement yesterday said it had no option, blaming the economic conditions in the global steel industry and its inability to reach an agreement with the union for its decision.
Last Friday, the company met with the union and said it was impossible for the company to keep workers on the plant over a protracted period without having work for them to perform.
A couple of weeks ago, ArcelorMittal, Point Lisas, announced that because of over-supply of steel in the international market and the drying up of orders for its Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) and steel products, it had to scale down its operations. The union claims a Canadian firm has been contracted by the company.
“The global steel industry is experiencing its worst recession in ten years, comparable to that experienced in the early ‘90s. Every steel company in the world is facing this difficult reality and ArcelorMittal Point Lisas has had no choice but to react to these changes in the industry,” it said.
The workers are being sent home with $2,000 each as compensation for December 7 to January 15, next year. The steel company said the over-supply of steel in the international market and the drying up of orders for its DRI and steel products produced at its Point Lisas plant has led to this temporary shut down of its operations.
However, Timothy Bailey, chief labour relations officer of union said while it was undeniable there was a global depression in the world market, he said he was saddened that the multinational company which made millions and billions in the 30-odd years it has been operating in T&T, as soon as they were going through a rough patch the workers, who were paid the least, were the one who got severed.
The company has been in limbo for months, saying it could not produce steel at a profitable price, even as it negotiated unsuccessfully to renew its expired contract for electricity and natural gas.
The company was put in an idle mode and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the company and the union to have workers do alternative jobs, which were once done by contract workers and which were outside of their job description. The MOU was expected to be reviewed.
However, Bailey said that mid-stream before the scope of work and schedule of jobs outlined for the workers were exhausted, “the company moved the goal post and came to the union to draw up new proposals for the union to agree with to send workers on forced vacation for the period December to mid-January.
“We said to the company legally we did not have the powers to send any worker on forced vacation, “ Bailey added.
He said according to a clause in their collective agreement, there were certain workers who would have accumulated vacation over two periods who could have been sent on leave.
“The company said they needed to go and check their statistics and come back to the union but this morning (yesterday) while the union was engrossed in its statutory executive meeting, the meeting was interrupted by the company which requested an emergency meeting.”
Bailey said the union members broke its meeting and immediately went across to the company where the company’s CEO, Robert Bellisle, placed two proposals on the table: One for the company to send the workers home for the month of December or the other option to lay off workers and give them $2,000 for the period December 7 to January 15.”
He said the meeting ended with no concensus but shortly after they left, workers started calling the union to inform them that the company was issuing letters effectively sending them home.
The union is calling for Prime Minister Keith Rowley and Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus to intervene.