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posted 14 Mar 2016, 18:42 by Gerry Kangalee

On March 13th, Michael Annisette, General Secretary of the National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) issued the following statement.

The National Trade Union Centre is not surprised by the closure of the steel plant, Arcelor Mittal and the discarding of workers like a commodity, given the historical behaviour of multinational corporations worldwide. No multinational comes to a country for the love the Country. Greed, profits and draining the country of all of their resources, without giving back to the country, has been the experience in the Caribbean, Latin America, South America and Africa. The survival and keeping of our manhood as a people and a society will always redound in our ability to trust and have faith in ourselves.

NATUC therefore sees the closing of the company as a blessing in disguise and one which now affords the people of Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity  to pursue the acquisition of Arcelor Mittal and to make changes in the law regarding workers benefits and severance to ensure that what happened at Arcelor Mittal never happens to any other group of workers in Trinidad and Tobago ever again.

We are witnessing a world-wide phenomenon and as devastating as it is to endure, we should view this as a learning experience for all of Trinidad and Tobago. The law is clear that indebtedness to the bank takes precedence over any other financial commitments the company may have, which regrettably includes workers’ salaries, wages, pensions, etc.

In the first instance, NATUC is of the view that we should all come together, that is, labour, government and the private sector, as a tripartite grouping and use our collective wisdom to come up with a plan to acquire Arcelor Mittal and reverse the anguish that has been placed on the shoulders of the workers. We believe that if the company is managed in a specific manner, it can be profitable.  We have noted the statements coming out of the company which alluded to some of the factors leading up to their decision to shut down the company and we feel that as a National Centre those issues can be addressed if we come together, under a tripartite mechanism. 

This is a golden opportunity for all stakeholders to put country before individualisms and personality. We are being given the opportunity to show our creativity, innovativeness, resilience and patriotism and for this reason NATUC is calling on all stakeholders to open immediate discussions to come up with a tripartite approach to acquire Arcelor Mittal and turn the steel company around. We cannot allow multinationals like ArcelorMittal to use the global crisis to bring down trade unions and unionised workers.  We call on the business community to invest in Arcelor Mittal if they are truly committed to Trinidad and Tobago, bearing in mind, that several companies, other workers and a whole community will be substantially affected by the closure of the steel plant.

We in NATUC once again express our concerns over the fact that there is no legislative protection for workers when a company goes into receivership or when a company files for insolvency. The law as it stands gives the banks full ranking and priority over any other creditors when the indebtedness is crystalized.

This is not the time for name calling nor is it the time to wash our dirty linen in public. We feel the pain of the displaced employees of Arcelor Mittal and it is for this reason that we are making an ardent call for all to demonstrate their patriotism and commitment to all workers of Trinidad and Tobago. For the love of country we are calling on all who are committed to a sustainable Trinidad and Tobago to put their money where their mouth is and engage in tripartite talks, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that the lives of the employees of Arcelor Mittal are restored to some level of normalcy.

NATUC is once again making the call for tripartite discussions that deal with the economy to be put on the front burner and to be given top priority so that we can formulate a common approach to The Way Forward for Trinidad and Tobago to successfully navigate the economic global crisis that is threatening our very stability.

NATUC views the Maritime sector as being of vital importance to the economy of Trinidad and Tobago and believe that it can play a major role in combating the economic crisis that we are now facing. Within the maritime sector, workers’ wages have priority and we deem it unfair for other sectors of the economy to have the legal backing to withhold this type of protection from their workers.

Secondly we view this crisis as being the opportune time for the government to review the Severance Benefits Act and the Companies Ordinance so that legislation could be revised whereby provisions are put in place to guarantee and protect workers’ wages and severance in situations such as have occurred at Arcelor Mittal. Salaries, wages, pension and other benefits must be given some level of ranking and priority in the disbursement of assets when a company goes into liquidation or receivership.  Workers must be comfortable knowing that at the end of the day and after years of loyal and steadfast service to a company, they will not be left out in the cold in the event of unforeseen closure.

It is absolutely critical for the government to take this matter to the Parliament, without any further delay and revise the Severance Benefits Act to safeguard workers benefits.  No criticism, emotions or anger will resolve the situation, only the legislative protection of workers’ rights to receive legitimate benefits will suffice. Some consideration should also be given to the setting up of Employment Insurance to address issues of a similar nature.

NATUC calls on all citizens, politicians, business companies and the entire trade union movement to rally around Arcelor Mittal workers and save the jobs of the thousands of workers and their families who would be affected by the closure of the steel company. Ole talk is not an option, only positive and complete action will demonstrate our commitment to Trinidad and Tobago.

NATUC believes that there are a lot of opportunities open for Trinidad and Tobago. The use of the Port facilities and the steel plant can be a profitable combination and a thrust of diversification in that sector. NATUC says all is not lost and the closure of Arcelor Mittal gives us the golden opportunity to force the social dialogue mechanism with all stakeholders and we REPEAT WITH ALL STAKEHOLDERS, for to ignore one is to ignore all.

We reiterate our views that the closure of ArcelorMittal can be seen as a golden opportunity for trade unions, the government and the private sector to form a tripartite business and seize the opportunity to do something for the working class of Trinidad and Tobago, a venture, which we are confident will redound in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago.

A WORD TO THE WISE IS SUFFICIENT