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More hardship expected for ex-workers

Published: 
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Steel workers’ lives in limbo...
Glenda Vidalis, mother of two, who was recently retrenched by steel company ArcerlorMittal.

Valdeen Shears-Neptune

At least three wives of retrenched workers of ArcelorMittal Steel Company, Point Lisas, have been treated by doctors for mental depression and stress within the past week.

This, from a source, yesterday, even as the media queried rumours of an attempted suicide, which vice-president of the Steel Workers Union (SWUTT) Ramkumar Narinesingh denied. He did say, however, that emotional meltdowns were anticipated. 

The company, on Thursday, lost a judgement in the Industrial Court and was ordered to pay workers they had laid off between December 2015 and February this year.

However, the following day, workers were suddenly informed of the company’s decision to close the Point Lisas plant, as it claimed it was facing $1.3 billion in debt and could no longer continue operations here.

Sunday Guardian spoke with some of the affected workers on the impact of ArcelorMittal’s move on their lives.

Glenda Vidalis, 45, is a single mother of two.

“I didn’t see myself here (unemployed) at this stage in my life. I really didn’t,” she stated during a telephone interview yesterday.

Vidalis, whose children are both pursuing tertiary level education, said she has no clue what her immediate future holds.

She was an employee with ArcelorMittal for the last 25 years and had begun “right out of school” as a telephone operator, working her way up to payroll supervisor.

Vidalis said she considered herself on the path to financial security and with the means to leave a legacy for her two children, ages 18 and 20, because of her years invested in the company. Now, all she has are payslips, reflecting pension payments of six per cent of her salary, deductions for a savings plan and medical insurance.

None of which she is sure to recover. Responses by the company to queries on those payments were vague, she said.

In fact, the Couva resident said, the company has wasted no time in deactivating its medical card, as employees who attempted to use it yesterday were turned away by medical institutions.

“This was well-orchestrated, it seems. I am praying that they do the right thing and at least give us a retrenchment package with which we can try to start over. We would have been able to pick up the pieces and move on. One month’s salary is simply a slap in the face. I don’t have a clue as to what is my next step. Now I have to find another job and find it fast,” she said.

Vidalis, who rents, has been awaiting approval for a home from the Housing Development Corporation for the past 17 years.

She is pleading with Government to intervene on the workers’ behalf and seek to get the company to make their welfare, priority over the company’s creditors.

Meanwhile, another worker, 51-year-old Alfred Williams, said, “Right now everything is down, down. Is loans, bills, credit card. I don’t know where my life stands in this thing.”

With a ten-year-old daughter and a 70-year-old mother to care for, Williams said he was looking forward to benefiting from an early, reduced pension, which he would have qualified for in the next three years. The company’s retirement age is 60 and employees are entitled to (reduced) pension from age 55.

Williams has over 24 years service with ArcelorMittal and worked as a senior worker in its refractories department.

He too is calling for government’s intervention.

Jolene Hendley, 30, is a mother of a five-year-old girl and is thankful that she has the support of her husband.

However, Hendley said, things are difficult as they now have to meet all the family’s commitments with one salary. She said she sympathizes with fellow workers who had 20 years-plus service and no hope of a severance payment coming. Hendley worked with the company for the last eight years and said she had been looking forward to achieving financial security and building her life with her family.

“Government needs to do something right now,” she said.

For Roger Charles, ArcelorMittal’s decision is a double blow.

Charles, a father of six children ranging in ages from 17 to ten, was on injury leave when the news came that he no longer had a job.

A resident of Diamond Village, Claxton Bay, 39-year-old Charles said he has gone from frustrated to angry. Charles had been the company’s sole tower crane operator for the past 11 years.

With a matter pending before the courts, Charles said the company has been disrespectful to him and its entire staff in treating them the way it did.

Charles has had three surgeries since being injured in 2010. 

His matter was adjourned to March 23. 

“Who is going to compensate me now. So not only am I unemployed, I am unemployed with major injuries and no one to see to my medical welfare? How do I take care of my children now. I was already facing issues in the court for being unable to pay maintenance, now what?” he asked.

According to Charles, there are over 25 workers similarly affected, all of whom had recorded major injuries, the claims for which were still unsettled. He claims many of those incidents were listed as “in-house.”

“They (ArcelorMittal) just don’t care, this was their instant way of showing this. What are we, the workers, to do now, how do we take care of our families?” he lamented.