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Steel company fires about 700 in Trinidad


Steel company fires about 700 in Trinidad

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PORT OF SPAIN – The Trinidad and Tobago government has described as a “real tragedy” the decision by ArcelorMittal Point Lisas, a subsidiary of the world’s leading steel and mining company to send home more than 600 employees.

“We want to know what’s the status of the workers’ separation benefits. My understanding is that other creditors may have priority over the payment of benefits to the workers,” Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus said.

The move by the steel and mining company came less than 24 hours after the Industrial Court had ruled against the company and fined it TT$24 000 (One TT dollar =US$0.16 cents) as well as criticising the procedures used in laying off over 500 of its employees last December.

President General of the Steel Workers Union (SWUTT) Christopher Henry told reporters that at least 700 workers had been terminated by the company.

Henry called for “an immediate intervention” by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, noting that the decision of the company places a “tremendous burden” on the existing state of the local economy.

ArcelorMittal in a statement said that it intends to comply with the ruling of the Industrial Court and promised to pay all monies owed to employees, “that they are legally entitled to receive, pursuant to the Judgement of the Court”.

Henry said the move by the company is “the fallout of lack of preparation with having legislation in place to protect citizens… the working class, from the capitalist system that allows them (multi-nationals) to be able to come into your country, plunder and rape your country and leave”.

He said the company has offered a month’s salary for workers, “to survive on for the rest of the year”.

Baptiste- Primus said she the company filed for insolvency and that she is “in the process of responding to the company to enquire what type of winding up process is this and who are its creditors”.

She said the government is developing a ten-point plan which includes liaising with the business community to try and match the skills of laid off workers with available jobs.

In its statement, ArcelorMittal said it has been under “severe financial distress” since mid-2015 and that a combination of local and international challenges have resulted in the decision to close.

The company said it has been recording losses since 2009 and that since November last year, the plant has been idle when 480 workers were temporarily laid off.

In addition, the company cited the proposed “major increases” in the price of gas and electricity at a time of falling commodity prices which have rendered production costs uncompetitive.

“Additionally, proposed increases to port rental fees, announced property taxes and business levies have further contributed to the unsustainability of the business. As an export-led business, ArcelorMittal Point Lisas has also been severely impacted by the drop in international steel prices and global overcapacity in steel production,” the statement stated.

The company said that it held discussions with the government and other stakeholders in an attempt to find another solution including a potential sale, or a transfer to the government, but that the discussions have not had a successful outcome.

It said that a creditors’ voluntary wind-up be undertaken as soon as it is legally and operationally practical. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said that the government would seek to intervene on the issue of the recent increase in the rate of borrowing, by invoking statutory powers on the matter.

“The Government is not in support of excessive interest rates for borrowing,” the Finance Minister said. “In this context it should be noted that Section 44 (a) (1) of the Central Bank Act states that the Central Bank may fix the maximum and minimum interest rates payable on deposits received, and fix the maximum and minimum interest rates, fees and charges to be charged on loans, advances, or other credit facilities by financial institutions.”

Imbert told Parliament that Section 44 (a) (2) states the Central Bank, after consultation with the Minister, may set the maximum spread between interest rates chargeable on loans and interest rates payable on deposits which a financial institution may earn, carry or charge.

“Accordingly, the Minister of Finance has initiated discussions with the Central Bank on this issue with a view to ensuring equity, transparency and fairness in the fixing by the commercial banks of interest rates, for both loans and investments,” Imbert said. (CMC)