Steel company lays off nearly 500 workers

4 February 2016

ArcelorMittal, the world’s leading steel and mining company, Wednesday announced that it was laying off 498 of its employees in Trinidad and Tobago due to the “continuing poor international market conditions in the steel industry”.

But the Steel Workers’ Union of Trinidad and Tobago (SWUTT) is accusing the company of failing to meet with it to discuss the matter and is also calling for the intervention of Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus.

“We would have asked to meet with the company to have consultations and we were denied the opportunity because they went ahead and laid off without the union meeting with them.

“We are again calling on the company to meet with the union so that we could have an opportunity to put forward our views to keep the workers employed, but we have not gotten an opportunity to do so since their return,” SWUTT president Christopher Henry told a news conference.

In a statement, ArcelorMittal Point Lisas, said that it had been forced to lay off the workers “without pay until March 13, 2016.

It said that after “several attempts to meet with the union, and in the context of lack of participation of the union in discussions to decide on how to cope with the very difficult situation facing the company, the company was forced to take the decision to lay-off the workers”.

The steel company said it had requested to meet with the SWUTT on January 28, with the invitation indicating “the urgency for such a meeting.

“The Union, refused to meet on January 28th the Company then suggested a meeting on Friday January 29 and then again on Monday 1st February to ensure the facilitation of meaningful consultation.   The Union refused to meet on both days proposed by the Company; ignoring the Company’s demonstrated willingness to be flexible on the first date proposed. “

It said that the continuing refusal of the SWUTT to meet “also came notwithstanding the indication from the Company that because of the continuing poor state of the international market, there was the possibility of layoffs of staff members.

“The layoff of the workers has come subsequent to several unsuccessful attempts by the Company to meet with the SWUTT to plan the way forward for the Company and the workers,” the statement said, noting that early last month it brought back workers it had initially dismissed even though there was no work to offer.

“However, with no positive change in the international steel market for its products, having exhausted the planned training programme for workers at the plant, with the Union unwilling to accommodate meeting with the Company at the Ministry of Labour, the Company had no choice but to send home the workers for the period between today, Wednesday and March 13th 2016.

“Although the workers will not be paid while being off the job, they will be able to access their Savings Plan, their Health Plan and their Employees Assistance Programme.  Also, the Company will continue paying the Life Insurance Premiums of employees,” the company said.

It added that it is “regretful that the Union showed no cooperation during this difficult period and is reassuring members of staff that they and the Union will be kept informed about the circumstances of the international steel industry and the many challenges facing ArcelorMittal Point Lisas and all other steel producers”.

Henry acknowledged that the company had written to the union on January 26 “asking for a meeting on the 27th.

“We told them that we had a serious engagement and we could meet them on the 5th (of February),” he said, adding “they refused to meet and then they laid off the workers”.