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Strike at TCL reaches 90-day legal limit
Trinidad Cement Ltd’s (TCL) 90-day strike ends at midnight tonight. However, the company’s 500-plus employees will not be able to enter the plant to resume work on the next working day, as lockout action at both plants remained in place. Up to late yesterday neither TCL management nor the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), the employees’ representative union, had contacted the Labour Ministry to refer the dispute to the Industrial Court.
The company’s corporate communications manager, Michelle Langton, said yesterday as far as she was aware the company has not sought to do so. Earl Fahey, OWTU’s TCL Mayo branch president, said the union was yet to discuss its position on referring the matter to the court.
According to the labour law, workers have 90 days of legal strike action. At the end of this period, either the company or the union can ask to have the dispute referred to the Industrial Court for resolution. The TCL strike was the first strike to extend the full 90 days. Mere days before the TCL workers served official strike notice, Petrotrin workers signalled their intention to serve strike notice. The Petrotrin strike, however, was averted.
During the course of the strike, workers set up strike camps outside TCL’s Claxton Bay and Mayo operations. Within the first week of the strike, workers clashed with police, accusing them of using excessive force. The matter was referred to the Police Complaints Authority and is under investigation. During the strike workers were accused of carrying out terror attacks.
The home of TCL employee Wayne Benjamin, a chemist, was firebombed. Unknown attackers threw a “flambeau” at Benjamin’s home. It exploded, but did not cause any damage. TCL’s general manager Satnarine Bachew labelled the workers “terrorists.”
However, the workers claimed the company was responsible for the attacks and in turn accused management of sabotage. President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (Fitun) Joseph Remy and other trade unions came out in support of the strikers.
Remy, in an interview yesterday, said Fitun and all its member organisations were standing firmly behind the striking workers, as they were fighting “an epic, historic and what we would call a successful battle against the TCL management.” He said Fitun was prepared to challenge any attempt by TCL management to engage in lockout action against the workers.
“We warn them they are going to feel the wrath of all the trade unions in Trinidad and Tobago if they engage in any lockout action after the 90 days’ strike (is) completed,” Remy said.
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