As cement supplies run low and strike action continues at Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL), the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) has enlisted the support of its counterparts in Jamaica and Barbados to block the Claxton Bay company from importing the commodity from its subsidiaries there. TCL’s general manager Satnarine Bachew confirmed to the T&T Guardian it was bringing in cement from its sister companies in Barbados and Jamaica to supplement the local market.
He said currently there were supplies of cement at strategic points, which TCL planned to start releasing into the market.
In addition, he said, the company planned to bring in cement from its subsidiaries to supplement that quota. He noted the cement shortage in Tobago and promised to address that situation. However, on day four of the strike by TCL workers at Claxton Bay and Mayo, the OWTU sent letters to the Barbados Workers’ Union, the National Union of Public Workers (Barbados) and the National Workers Union of Jamaica, which represent workers at the Arawak (Barbados) and Carib Cement (Jamaica) plants—subsidiaries of the TCL Group.
The letters informed those unions of the strike at TCL and asked that they stand in solidarity with the local workers and ensure no cement from these two countries came to Trinidad. They stated: “As the representing union at the TCL Group of Companies subsidiary in Barbados/Jamaica, we consider it important that you are fully aware of this recent development in Trinidad and Tobago. “We are requesting your solidarity as workers here embark on this important struggle. “In particular, it is to be noted that the TCL general manager, Satnarine Bachew, has stated categorically that efforts would be made to supplement the supply of cement to the T&T market with products from the Arawak plant in Barbados and/or the Carib Cement plant in Jamaica. “It is in this context that we ask you, our colleague union, to stand in solidarity with us and ensure your members are not used to undermine the strike action being undertaken in T&T by the OWTU.
“Specifically, it would be of importance to our struggle if no cement comes from Barbados or Jamaica to Trinidad during the period of the strike.” The OWTU added: “We look forward to your full support as we continue to work together toward the defence and protection of the interests of working people across the Caribbean region.
“It must be noted that this struggle is not only important to TCL workers here in T&T but to all workers in the TCL Group.
“As we did with our united struggle against Cemex, workers’ solidarity across the Caribbean can result in victory.” Bachew said he was not aware of the letter and was not in a position to comment on it. He said the company had no intention to break the strike, as was being suggested by the union. He said: “The plant is completely shut down. We have a specialised plant. People cannot just walk off the street to operate that plant. “We are doing nothing to interfere with the strike or break the strike. All we are doing is protecting the rights of all employees, those on strike and those who would like to come to work and earn a living.” He said the company was forced to beef up security at the gates where striking workers were camped, following several incidents in which vehicles were damaged, tyres punctured and workers who opted to report for duty were harassed. Bachew said they were hoping the Ministry of Labour intervened soon to bring the two parties together and not wait until the 90-day strike had ended, as that was not in the best interest of anyone.
He added: “It is no secret the TCL Group is in financial difficulties and also the TCL subsidiaries. Whilst we are still profitable, the companies in Jamaica and Barbados are in loss-making. “We are trying to avoid TCL from getting into that situation, as cement plants around the world are shutting down due to the downturn in the construction industry. We are fighting feverishly to protect what we have.” Bachew said with revenue falling and costs increasing, “whatever decision is made has to take into account all stakeholders—employees, customers, shareholders, financiers and suppliers—if we are to survive.”