Labour Minister: Little hope of severance pay for ex-workers

Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie - File photo
Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie - File photo

EIGHT years after the closure of steel giant Arcelor Mittal in 2016, some 644 ex-workers who were terminated without compensation are still appealing for the Government’s intervention. But Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie, in a telephone interview on March 19, said he is unsure what can be done at this point.

He commented, “I am appalled, however, by the fact that we could have companies coming into Trinidad and Tobago, closing up shop and not paying people their severance. “At the same time, given the private nature of the arrangement, I really do not know what is available. “It has not struck my attention in any way until now. I do have some technocrats who would have been around at that time and based on their recollection and notes, would seek their advice.”

Former steelworkers, led by president of the Steel Workers Union Timothy Bailey, held a candlelight vigil outside the Point Lisas plant on March 11 to mark the anniversary of the closure.

“History will tell you that on March 11, 2016, the multinational company closed its doors and was allowed to leave the shores of TT without paying any separation money to TT citizens who were employed with the company,” Bailey recalled.

Saying some had as much as 36 years of service, Bailey said that must be the greatest injustice committed against workers and the working class in TT’s history.

Amidst claims of insolvency, temporary lay-offs, and planned closure, the company was mothballed the day after the Industrial Court ruled that workers should be paid what was owed to them.

The court also imposed a $24,000 fine for the company’s failure to treat with the representing union. Pointing out that steelworkers possessed a unique skill set, Bailey said the closure placed a lot of hardship on the severed 644 permanent and thousands of contract workers, as only a small percentage had been absorbed elsewhere.

“The rest of them are hustling. Co-workers, friends, families have passed away from work-related and stress-related diseases. Some have taken their own lives.”

He said the union had a responsibility to hold an annual memorial to raise awareness of the injustice, while the Government stood idly by and allowed a multinational to “rape, abuse and plunder citizens of this country.”

He lamented that, to date, no legislation has been brought to Parliament to ensure there is no recurrence of such an act against any working-class citizens.

“The political directorate has failed and continues to fail by failing to uphold its obligation to ensure protection of its citizens.”

He said two attorneys general, sitting AG Reginald Armour and current Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi, had represented Arcelor Mittal.

“The current AG actually broke the news to the Labour Minister: workers’ representatives in 2016 that the company was being closed and workers would not be paid for their long, dedicated years of service to the Mittal Group.

“If we all truly believe oppression and slavery no longer existed, this is an example of modern-day slavery.”

Last June, it was announced that TT Iron Steel Co Ltd had signed a sales and purchase agreement to acquire the Arcelor Mittal Point Lisas iron and steel plant. In a statement, TT Iron said it would refurbish the plant over the next 24 months at a cost of $1-1.4 billion.

Gus Hiller is the founder and group CEO of TT Iron and Steel Co Ltd. Bailey said as far as he knew, no money had changed hands.


"Labour Minister: Little hope of severance pay for ex-workers"

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