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HIGHWAY WORKERS RESIST OAS EXPLOITATION

posted 8 May 2013, 09:09 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 8 May 2013, 09:25 ]
 
On April 29th 2013, workers employed with the Brazilian firm Construtora OAS Ltd. on the Point Fortin-San Fernando Highway downed tools to protest what they considered poor conditions of work. The workers are not unionised, but as is typical in heavy construction projects in the South, they turned to the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) for support and assistance.
WHO IS CONSTRUTORA OAS LTD?
 
Founded in 1976, headquartered in Sao Paolo Brazil, it is a heavy and civil construction firm serving both public and private clients. It operates in areas such as engineering, planning, execution, works management and concessions, for the power, sanitation, transportation, and infrastructure industries. 
 
It has undertaken projects in other countries, including Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Argentina, Haiti, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Venezuela. 
 
All indications are that OAS got the Point Fortin highway through sole, selective tendering and there is widespread speculation that the company has connections with Ricardo Teixeira, (former son-in law of Joao Havelange) who was forced to resign as president of the Brazilian Football federation amid widespread allegations of bribery and corruption. 

According to one
Costa Rican newspaper OAS has been accused of “low social and environmental responsibility, for committing administrative irregularities and alleged payments of bribes to politicians in countries like Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile.” 
 
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, amid a firestorm of criticism, halted work on a major highway expansion project contracted to OAS, which had also secured the concession to charge tolls. She also removed Works and Transport
Minister Pedro Castro from dealing with the highway expansion project when it was revealed that he had worked as a paid consultant for OAS when it was bidding for the project. 
 
In August 2012, OAS, which had entered Haiti in the wake of Brazilian troops,
abandoned a Highway rehabilitation Project which had gone past its scheduled completion date and left the Haitian authorities and workers in great strife. 
 
The workers on the controversial $7.2 billion project raised a range of issues that needed correcting. Health and Safety was at the top of the list. Workers complained that drinking water was not readily available at all locations; sanitary conveniences were not regularly cleaned; workers had no place to wash their hands and change their clothes; ambulance services were inadequate and first aid kits were not available at allocations.

They also pointed out that there was inadequate first aid training; confined space and other permit-to work systems were lacking in terms of use and frequency. There were poor quality tools and damaged tools were not being replaced; personal protective equipment like boots and dust masks were not up to scratch; poor lighting for night work created hazardous conditions for the workers.
 
Workers slammed the payment system which was supposed to be bi-monthly, but sometimes were paid after three weeks. They questioned the legibility of their pay slips and charged that industry standards for meal allowances were not observed. Safety and attendance incentive bonuses, fringe and Cost of Living Allowance, all normal on construction projects were not observed by the company.

In violation of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefit Act, the company did not observe the 45 day notice period for redundancy and instead observed a 14 day notice period. On rain-days workers are forced to absorb losses, although rain days are normally factored into contract bids.

Wages are way below industry standards. Skilled workers are paid less than government daily paid labourers. There were grouses over vacation pay and the length of the probationary period. Workers are arbitrarily reclassified and forced to work outside of the classification for which they signed up and the performance appraisal system is said to be slipshod, subjective and liable to be used to discriminate and intimidate workers.

One of the most important issues raised by the workers was the use of expatriate labour in areas where local labour was competent and available. Workers, while conceding that in certain circumstances there may be need for expatriate workers, argued that local sources should be exhaustively searched before expatriate labour was brought in.

Aaron Moyne, Labour Relations Officer of the OWTU was assigned to handle lead the negotiations.
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