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TT Govt acts after Lake Asphalt workers kneel in protest

 

 



By Ivonne Web / TT Newsday

PORT SPAIN
Petroleumworld 09 29 2021

A release from the Energy Ministry said Minister Stuart Young urgently sought and obtained Cabinet approval to provide LATT with subventions to help it pay its expenses, including paying workers. Exactly how much was allocated to LATT was not disclosed.

This is Government's second subvention this year to LATT.

The ministry said LATT, like most businesses, has suffered as a result of the pandemic. Personnel from the ministry have communicated with the Finance Ministry to prioritise the subvention payment.

"The Government, via the Ministry of Energy, is currently looking at how LATT can become self-sustainable as it is not acceptable for LATT to continue depending on subventions to cover wages and expenses," the release said.

Young has reportedly prioritised pursuing plans to make LATT self-sustainable and intends to approach the Cabinet "shortly" with proposals along these lines.

WORKERS KNEEL

On Tuesday morning, workers assembled and knelt in front of the company’s gates at Brighton in La Brea, calling on Dr Rowley to intervene on their behalf with management.

Spokesman Raeburn Noble, a foreman at LATT, was not impressed with the latest subvention promise.

"It is hopeful but it does not change our situation. This is an unfulfilled promise. Only when we get our wages and salaries, our situation would be changed," Noble said.

"Lake Asphalt’s board of directors had already said that they were waiting on the subventions. We have been waiting. All this means is that the Government confirmed it is going to give the subventions but cannot say exactly when."

Earlier at the protest, Noble, who represented the Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (CGWTU), said about 300 workers have been affected, and the company owes them between $8 and $10 million. He said workers have been brought to their knees over the lack of payment of salaries.

"We are begging because people are hungry, people are suffering, people are nervous," Noble told Newsday.

"We do not know if it is to walk off the job, stay and lay down, or work hard like dogs to see if we can save the organisation. We are confused and begging for some direction."

He threw jabs at La Brea MP and Labour Minister Stephen McClashie, a member of an inter-ministerial committee to assess the company. The minister is a former board member at the company.

"Workers at Lake Asphalt have become beggars. Where is Mr McClashie? There is a deafening silence," Noble said.

Last year, the Prime Minister set up the committee after the union protested, expressing fears that the company would be shuttered like Petrotrin or privatised. Former energy minister Franklin Khan, who died in April, had spoken about plans to revitalise LATT.

On the delay, CGWTU president general Joseph Phillip, like Noble, said LATT workers are suffering. He said all categories of workers – hourly, daily and some monthly-rated – have been affected.

'NOBODY LISTENING'

"People are likely to lose their wives, their homes – but nobody is listening to us. I spoke to the board and they themselves don’t know what is going on."

The union wrote to Young on September 10, telling him workers were diligently operating within the constraints of the pandemic guidelines for the good of the organisation, and asked him to intervene to end their suffering.

On September 18, three trade union federations – JTUM, NATUC and FITUN – also called on Young to immediately address this "vexing" non-payment issue. The federations said it was a great insult that while government ministers were receiving their full salaries, benefits and allowances, the very survival of LATT workers and their families was threatened.

CEO Roger Wiggins said he welcomed the announcement by the Energy Ministry but declined to comment further, promising to do so on Wednesday.

In a previous statement to Newsday, Wiggins said LATT assured the company is committed to finding a solution to settle its debt.

"The reality that we are not immune to what is taking place globally is evident, as we continue to navigate our way through the downturn in both the local and international economies, the shrinkage in our traditional markets as well as a reduction in road-paving activities."

He admitted that unfortunately, one of the major effects of these challenges has been a delay in the timely payment of salaries and wages to both weekly and monthly-paid employees.

He said the company "assured" all parties that "we are working assiduously with management, the board of directors and all our stakeholders and customers to regularise this situation in the shortest possible time frame."

He said Government had demonstrated its commitment to working with the company even as it works with all its stakeholders during this challenging time.

Wiggins said LATT was currently exploring all its options while maintaining focus on strategic initiatives that would see some new products coming on stream soon. ­– With reporting by Yvonne Webb

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