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T&T Prime Minister Accuses Steel And Mining Company Of Being “Disrespectful In The Extreme”

Trinidad and Tobago PM Dr. Keith Rowley. Photo credit: T&T government.

T&T Prime Minister Accuses Steel And Mining Company Of Being “Disrespectful In The Extreme”

Photo above: T&T Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley. Photo credit: T&T government.

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Mar 12, (CMC) – T&T Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, today, said, that his administration views as “punitive and disrespectful in the extreme”, the decision by ArcelorMittal Point Lisas, a subsidiary of the world’s leading steel and mining company, to end its operations here, and send home more than 600 employees.

“It is with a sense of sadness and deep disappointment, that the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago have received the news of the actions of ArcelorMittal’s decision, to close the steel-producing business in our country,” Rowley said, in a statement.

He said, it was particularly hurtful “as it was done on the heels of a decision, where the workers had their rights defended in a Superior Court of Record in the state of Trinidad and Tobago.

“This far-reaching action, taken without reference or discussion with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, affecting thousands of our citizens, we view as punitive and disrespectful in the extreme,” he said.

Rowley added, the government “is very cognisant and mindful of the fact that this is a period of economic hardship and challenges in many industries all over the world.

“It is precisely because of this understanding, that we, as a people, have appealed to all our stakeholders to be resilient and caring for the people and their families who were there contributing in the good times, and who now require respect, support and even the milk of human kindness, as the ravages of worldwide recession negatively affect us all.”

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”.

The Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, Senator the Honourable Jennifer Baptiste-Primus said, 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”.

The Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, Senator the Honourable Jennifer Baptiste-Primus. Photo credit: T&T government.

The Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, Senator the Honourable Jennifer Baptiste-Primus. Photo credit: T&T government.

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 un-sustainability 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.

In his statement, Rowley said, that the closure and loss of jobs are “even more painful when one remembers that it was precisely in an earlier period of cyclical recession that a local steel industry, which was funded and nurtured by local taxpayers, then fell into the investment hands of Mittal, which, with our continued support and sacrifice, went on to become a world power in the steel industry.

“Whilst the government cannot dictate how any company should view its investments or how it should conduct its lawful business, we fully expect that all such decisions will be made within the confines of the relevant laws of Trinidad and Tobago, and as a corporate partner in our national development, it is our expectation that this is not the end and that there is still room for the country and the investor to talk and work our way out of these very real difficulties.”

Rowley said, that it is against this background that the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Finance stand ready to re-engage Arcelor Mittal on these far reaching developments.

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