Six hundred workers employed with the TCL Group of Companies went on legal strike on February 27th 2012 after Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) First Vice President Carlton Gibson served strike notice on the company at 11:00 that morning.
The strike comes in the aftermath of the breakdown of negotiations which were in conciliation at the Ministry of Labour and the refusal of the OWTU to seek an extension to the conciliation period.
Legally the workers then had seven days within which they could go on strike; the company similarly could take lockout action or the matter would be automatically referred to the Industrial Court at the expiry of the seven day period if neither party took action.
The strike involves four bargaining units at Trinidad Cement Ltd. the flagship of the TCL Group, and another bargaining unit at Trinidad Packaging Ltd. (TPL), a subsidiary of the Group. The bargaining units at Trinidad Cement are Hourly Rated, Monthly Paid, Senior Staff and Confidential Secretaries. There are two work bases: at Claxton Bay (manufacturing. bagging, distribution and export) and Mayo (raw material extraction).
The contract period for the bargaining units, except for Confidential Secretaries, which expires in June, expired on August 1st 2011.
The strike can be settled by parties at any time but must be referred to the Industrial Court for arbitration after: “three months of continuing industrial action has elapsed and there is a request to the Minister by either party to refer the dispute to the Court for final determination.”
The TCL Group is the only manufacturer of Cement in the English-speaking Caribbean and consists of eight (8) operating companies in Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Anguilla and Guyana. It is involved in the manufacture and sale of bulk and bagged cement, and in packaging and premixed concrete.
Both Caribbean Cement Company, based in Jamaica and Arawak, based in Barbados, manufacture cement while TGI based in Guyana is a bagging terminal.
Trinidad Cement Ltd. was established by the English company Rugby Portland in 1951 and was nationalised in 1976. It was divested/privatised in the 1990’s. Its largest shareholder is the Mexican company Cemex, the largest cement manufacturer in the Western hemisphere. Another foreign shareholder is Baleno Holdings (supposedly a Swiss company). The largest group of shareholders are institutional investors including private pension funds.
The National Insurance Board and Unit Trust Corporation (state-owned authorities) are significant shareholders. Credit unions hold just over 3% of the shares and employees, through their ESOP hold 5.5%
Observers of the industry say that the workers of TCL may be in for a long struggle, in that with the slump in the construction industry there is no great demand for cement and the company has manufacturing facilities in Jamaica and Barbados and a bagging plant in Guyana.