[UPDATED] Lake Asphalt: No plans to close, lay off workers

Lake Asphalt workers staged an early morning protest outside the company's compound, La Brea. -
Lake Asphalt workers staged an early morning protest outside the company's compound, La Brea. -

Lake Asphalt TT (LATT) does not plan to lay off workers CEO Roger Wiggins said last evening, denying claims by the Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (CGWTU) that the La Brea company was facing closure after Carnival.

“The board of directors and management are aware of the employees and the union’s concerns. Please note that at this time there is no plan to send home any of the employees,” Wiggins said on Tuesday evening.

Wiggins said LATT, which employs 200-plus workers, recently revised its strategic plan and expects to roll out key initiatives within the next two to three months.

These initiatives, he anticipates will increase the company's revenue stream.

Wiggins was responding to a placard protest outside the La Brea plant, on Tuesday morning, led by the CGWTU which claimed LATT was likely to be shut down and said that its operating capital had been depleted.

Branch president Rayburn Noble told protesting workers it was Wiggins who announced three times, between June 2019 to January 2020, that the company was in financial trouble and may not have money to pay wages after Carnival.

Wiggins did not respond to what Noble said.

People’s National Movement (PNM) councillor Gerald Debisette, a former LATT employee, sought to allay the workers’ fears but they criticised him and said he was “too small” and “not authorised” to make such a statement.

Debisette told Newsday a government official told him to inform the union there would be no job loss at the company. He said he was told an inter-ministerial team had been set up to review the state of the company and "make an intervention.” The official could not be reached for comment.

CGWTU had petitioned the board chaired by Christopher John-Williams to "save" the company. The union also wrote the Prime Minister and Energy Minister Franklin Khan expressing concern about the direction LATT was heading.

CGWTU Joseph Phillip said Dr Rowley advised them to address the matter with Khan which they did, but said Khan is yet to respond. Khan did not answer or return calls to his cellphone.

Phillip said understanding the difficulties faced, the union and workers offered a compromise to the board to cut expenses but that was ignored.

Last July, CGWTU first raised its concerns that LATT would be shuttered like the Petrotrin refinery, which is now the subject of a sale bid by Patriotic Energy and Technologies Ltd – in which the Oilfield Workers Trade Union is a stakeholder. Phillip also claimed then LATT was in a slump and was worried the company may either be closed or privatised.

However, Wiggins on Tuesday pledged the board and management's commitment to the sustainability of the organisation by continuing to maximise the value of the natural asphalt output to the company, community and country.

In a Business Day article, last July, Wiggins disclosed LATT knew it had to diversify its products and started making shifts from its primary business which was selling the bitumen from the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery, and sought to find new suppliers, regionally and domestically.

The company had also signed distribution agreements with China for use of its products.

Last June, Lake Asphalt also signed a licence agreement with the University of the West Indies to commercialise two asphalt-based products developed by the St Augustine campus. The licence agreement followed a memorandum of understanding with the university in 2015 to collaborate on research, development and commercialisation of asphalt and asphalt-based products.

This story has been updated with additional information. It was first published under the headline, Contractors union: Lake Asphalt facing closure

Amid unconfirmed reports that Lake Asphalt does not have money to keep the company operational after Carnival, workers of the state-owned company staged a vociferous protest outside the La Brea compound on Tuesday morning.

The placard-toting workers led by the president general of the Contractors and General Trade Union (CGWTU), Joseph Phillip, called on the Prime Minister and Energy Minister Franklin Khan to state clearly what is the company’s economic position.

Emphasising that they were not engaged in a “political protest” but a “bread and butter” protest, the workers nevertheless told the Government if they “closed the gates of LATT our fingers will talk.”

Phillip made no secret of the fact that he is a member of the People’s National Movement (PNM), but declared,” the PNM says they red and ready but the pitch black and we will turn our back.”

He accused the board and management of mismanaging the money in LATT’s coffers spending on "hair-brained" projects without proper technical guidance. “They spent it (money) like a river running to the point where we are not sure we will have work after Carnival. We want somebody to tell us why.”

Rayburn Noble, chairman of the LATT branch of CGWTU, said, “When the board was appointed in 2016, it is our understanding they met over US$275 million in operating capital. Today, they are saying they are not sure they can make wages come March.”

An attempt by PNM councillor for La Brea Gerald Debisette, a former Lake Asphalt worker to reassure colleagues that, “nobody will be going home,” sparked outrage by the protesters and an end to his address.

Before being “kindly asked to leave”, Debisette who retired from the company last year after almost 40 years service, said LATT was the heartbeat of La Brea.“I bring word from the PNM Government that nobody will be going home. That is guaranteed,” he said to shouts of “that is propaganda. We want to hear it from the Minister of Energy.” Debisette did not say what was the source of his statement.

He continued that an inter-ministerial team comprising the ministers of energy, trade and industry and finance was put together to address the LATT issue.

LATT CEO Roger Wiggins said he would issue a statement but had not done so as of 5 pm. Calls to Khan, the line minister for LATT, went unanswered.


"[UPDATED] Lake Asphalt: No plans to close, lay off workers"

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