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Cement strike stalling projects

By Carolyn Kissoon carolyn.kissoon@trinidadexpress.com

The ongoing strike at Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) is threatening the viability of the country’s construction industry, with several projects on hold as a result of the shortage of cement products.
And some contractors have turned to the black market for a supply of cement to ensure deadlines are met.
A manufacturing company affected by the strike also said yesterday it was forced to raise the price of blocks.
Jearlean John, Housing Development Corporation chairman, said yesterday: “(The strike) is indirectly affecting HDC through the contractors who work for us because already we are having complaints about cement. The big contractors are saying they have to try to buy cement on the black market.”
Speaking with the Express by phone yesterday, John said the cement shortage was affecting the completion of 3,000 housing units.
“During the latter part of last year the contractors were doing infrastructual work, so this is a critical time when they are putting down the foundation and going up with the walls. Now is a critical time for cement. Those houses are right now at risk and by next week we are about to roll out another 3,200 units through the small- and medium-sized contractors,” she said.
And since contractors are being forced to pay a higher price for cement, John expects the construction cost of each unit would go up.
“If this strike goes on for too much longer it means that the contractors will come back to us asking for a higher price for each unit because they have to pay more for the price of cement. So I am hoping that the issue can be resolved fairly speedily,” she said.
TCL workers went on strike two weeks go, and the company has since begun the importation of cement from Barbados and Jamaica.
In the meantime, some hardware dealers have been selling above the usual $50 per bag of cement price, with TCL’s general manager, Satnarine Bachew, saying some were selling at $100 a bag.
Zahir Hosein, chief operating officer at Alescon Readymix Ltd, said manufacturers of readymix cement were paying a higher cost for the cement being imported by TCL.
“Although we are getting this imported cement, we are paying a substantially higher price for the cement. It is about 25.6 per cent higher than the price we normally pay for cement in Trinidad.”
Hosein said the company has incurred additional costs for handling of the imported cement and security. “We need security for our drivers and equipment going to collect cement at the ports to ensure safety,” he said.
Hosein said although no workers were retrenched because of the strike, the company continues to review positions on a daily basis.
Hardware and block manufactures have also been affected by the impasse.
TCL stated yesterday a convoy of cement trucks—readymix operators and block manufacturers— are expected at the Claxton Bay plant this morning.
The trucks will be escorted by security to load bulk cement from TCL’s silos.
Block manufacturer Bestcrete said yesterday the strike action at TCL has had an adverse impact on the operations of many block operators.
“Bestcrete has taken every measure available to reduce the impact on the general public and valued customers. However, the inconsistent supply and increased price of cement have significantly affected our operations which have also necessitated a reduction in production shifts,” the company said in a statement.
“Regrettably these factors, which are beyond our control, have forced Bestcrete to temporarily increase our product pricing.”
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