A protest by workers of Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) yesterday temporarily shut down operations at the company’s Claxton Bay packing plant and Mayo quarry.
However, in a statement the company said it would make “every effort” to minimise disruptions to supply.
Led by their trade union, the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), hourly-rated and weekly paid workers began protesting to demand improvements to their health and pension plans.
Chanting the union’s battle cry, “We shall Overcome,” the demonstrators erected tents outside TCL’s factory, at Southern Main Road, Claxton Bay. OWTU branch president at TCL, Lawrence Renaud, said negotiations began since June 26, 2007, and after 40 bilateral meetings, TCL had failed to agree on an improved medical plan.
He said the union met with TCL’s human resource manager Keith Johnson last Friday but no agreement was reached. “We are fed up of this and we are saying enough is enough. Workers need a better medical plan,” Renaud said.
He said that the existing medical plan was outdated and had not been upgraded for 13 years. Renaud said the workers were entitled to hospitalisation benefits, specialist consultations, maternity leave, physiotherapy, psychiatric assistance, supplementary benefits as well as traveling allowances.
He said workers needed an improved medical plan because of the hazardous working conditions. “We fed up of the dust. Workers are suffering and we believe that the company must put a proper medical plan in place.”
Renaud also called for adjustments to the existing housing plan. He said that the plan stands at $300,000 but the union was negotiating to have it increased to $600,000. Renaud said that although TCL had agreed to some of the proposals, they were yet to finalise the agreement.
He explained that although TCL plants were up and running, workers were dissatisfied. He said that workers from the Mayo TCL plant as well as the TCL factory had agreed to stop working until their demands are met.
The protest triggered an emergency meeting between the union and the company around midday, following which workers returned to their jobs.
However, the workers threatened to cripple the company’s operations if their demands are not met.
In a statement, TCL said it had presented proposals to the union called the work stoppage unfortunate and premature. TCL said it had made proposals to the union which are being considered and the negotiations were at an advanced stage. The company said the pension and heath plans are the only outstanding matters in the negotiations.
Source: RADHICA SOOKRAJ
APril 15, 2008
The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper