Union warns of backlash from cheap steel imports

27 January 2016

With many hardware dealers now importing cheap Chinese steel products, the Steel Workers Union (SWUTT) is warning Government and contractors that infrastructure in T&T will not be able to stand natural disasters in the near future.

Dozens of retrenched workers of Central Trinidad Steel Ltd (Centrin), T&T’s leading supplier of steel products, protested in front of the company’s Point Lisas plant yesterday.

SWUTT general secretary Lancelot Smart said the fallout from the plant’s shutdown earlier this month has led many hardware dealers to import cheap and low grade Chinese products, which have been flooding the international market. 

Speaking to reporters yesterday, he said a leading hardware supplier was now importing the same cheap steel products. 

He called on the Bureau of Standards to conduct mill tests on the products being sold by the dealers, especially for Government contracts. He said steel buyers need to be aware that their products cannot be issued quality assurances.

He added: “We had a meeting with Centrin some time last year when they asked us to give whatever assistance we can by speaking to our affiliates and if possible, by speaking to the Government to see what they can do about hardware dealers bringing in steel from China.

Of course with hardware dealers bringing in their own steel, it hampered Centrin’s ability to sell. 

“In our efforts, they came and laid off the workers and are doing the same things they had asked the Government to stop other people from doing.

“We will be very careful to advise that these steels are inferior without it being tested. What we want to advise is that the Bureau of Standards get involved and do testing and these imported steel,” Smart said.

Branch presidents Ricky Ramdoolar said while the Chinese and Turkish products were cheaper to import than the cost of manufacturing the local items, they did not pass the quality standard test. 

Shop steward Luke Balchan said if hardware dealers were to purchase quality steel like Centrin’s products, it would cost them more. He said they were also selling the cheap product at the same price as quality products.

Centrin’s woes

Centrin produced roofing sheets, Z purlins and C purlins, decking sheets, BRC wire, welded wire mesh, chain link wire, rebars, rounds and High Tensile Deformed Reinforcing Bars.

The company’s operation was halted due to ArcelorMittal’s plant being shutdown last year. Centrin relies on ArcelorMittal’s Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) billets to make its products. This led to Centrin issuing retrenchment notices to 200 employees on January 11.

Smart said while the union understood Centrin’s problem, the company had refused to meet with them to discuss a solution. 

He said they were proposing that the 60 unionised employees at the company be absorbed into Bhagwansingh’s Hardware, Centrin’s parent company.

No clear directives for ArcelorMittal workers

Although ArcelorMittal workers returned to the Point Lisas plant on January 18 after being laid off during the Christmas season, they were informed that workers would undergo orientation and health, safety and environment training for eight days. 

He said workers were still engaged in training and the union was unaware what the company was doing with the plant.

He added: “We have taken the lay off matter to court and in the case management conference, the president of the court had asked that the status quo remained, meaning that whatever was said in those laying off letters should be remained until the finalisation of that matter at the court. 

“That is that the workers would have returned to work on the 18. The final submissions were made at the court yesterday and judgment has been reserved.”