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TCL: Stop the violence

...Only then will we resume negotiations

By Nikita Braxton-Benjamin nikita.braxton@trinidadexpress.com

NEGOTIATIONS between the management of Trinidad Cement Ltd and the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) will only resume when violence against employees ceases.

This was the position stated by TCL's general manager Satnarine Bachew yesterday during a press conference at the company's Claxton Bay compound.

"The acts of violence must stop, the rights of employees must be recognised. All employees have rights. Those who are striking have the right to strike and we respect that but those who choose to come to work must also be respected. We live in a free and a democratic society where every citizen has rights that must be respected and once that happens, we are prepared to return to the table," he said.

Yesterday Bachew reiterated that the company was back to its 6.5 per cent wage increase offer.

"We can only go where we can afford and we have maintained all the while the 6.5 wage increase is what TCL can afford at that this point in time as we move forward," Bachew said.

On Thursday, TCL withdrew the seven per cent offer made the previous day and refused to continue negotiations with the OWTU after it blamed the union for terror tactics against the company.

On Wednesday workers blocked the company's Claxton Bay entrance with vehicles and burnt tyres. Company officials said a shuttle transporting employees out of the company had to wait for police escort to get out of the compound.

Since the workers embarked on a 90-day strike action three weeks ago, the tyres of the vehicle of some company officials have been punctured by nails and the entrances to both the company's Claxton Bay and Mayo compounds have at times been blocked.

Attempts have also allegedly been made to fire-bomb two homes belonging to strike breakers.

TCL officials met Labour Minister Errol McLeod on Friday morning and Bachew yesterday said, "Several proposals were put on the table."

He said the same proposals were discussed with the union that evening.

Bachew said they are expected to meet with the minister again early this week.

He said the company was "slowly but shortly" beginning to restart operations at the company's compound.

A boat carrying bagged cement imported from Barbados arrived at the company's jetty yesterday. Bachew said by 6 p.m. it would have finished off-loading.

He said on Friday another boat was able to off-load in north Trinidad and 1,300 tonnes of cement was sold.

To date the company has imported 25,000 tonnes of cement and also plans are in place to import the material needed to make the product.

On Friday the cement mill was able to run for 24 hours and produced 1,700 tonnes of cement, the general manager said.

"Very, very soon we are going to be starting to pack cement here in Claxton Bay and resume sales. We will be informing the public as to when that will be possible," Bachew said.

He said the Mayo plant deals with quarry operations and needed heavy equipment and was therefore more "challenging" to restart.

"It is easier from this end (Claxton Bay) to start the mill operations and the packing plant operations and we prefer to do that at this point in time," he said.

Bachew said there have been reports of hoarding of cement taking place and referred specifically to Tobago. He said double the amount of cement needed for the week was sent to the island but midway in the week there were reports of shortages.

"Either the cement consumption has really jumped significantly or it is being hoarded somewhere."

He advised consumers who are being made to pay high prices for bags of cement to shop around as there are hardwares where the product is being reasonably priced.

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