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Construtora OAS cuts 860

Published: 
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
A Construtora OAS worker reacts to the bad news that she’d been laid off, outside the OAS head office at Golconda, San Fernando, yesterday. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH

After weeks of intense protests for outstanding wages, 860 employees of financially embattled Construtora OAS received the dreadful news yesterday that the company had laid them off.

The workers, skilled and unskilled labourers, truck drivers, operators, carpenters and masons, who had worked on the Solomon Hochoy Highway project for the past few years, waited anxiously as a timekeeper read the names of those who would be terminated by the Brazilian firm on April 25. The retrenchment followed last Friday’s dismissal of 644 ArcelorMittal employees as that company shut down business with a $1.3 billion debt hanging over it and in the midst of a weak global steel market. Central Trinidad Steel Ltd (Centrin) and Tube City IMS each laid off 200 workers in February and December, respectively, while Industrial Plant Services Ltd (IPSL) sent 75-plus workers home.

On March 7, Construtora OAS proposed to retrench part of its workforce during a meeting with the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU). In a letter addressed to OWTU labour relations officer, Maxine Lake, last Friday, the company’s country superintendent Rodrigo Ventura said the criteria used for selecting workers for job cuts “was based on the total for whom they are unable to provide work,” as they must now “restructure their business.” 

Construtora OAS parent company, Grupos OAS in Brazil, filed for bankruptcy last year after its access to financing was severely restricted by a corruption investigation at Brazilian state-owned oil company, Petrobras. In Ventura’s letter, he stated that due to circumstances beyond its control, the company now had a surplus of bi-monthly workers, totalling 860.

A promise was made to pay outstanding salaries next Monday for the periods ending February 29 and March 15. Although workers are not required to work between now and April 25, they are expected to be paid three bi-monthly salaries on April 7, 22 and May 2. Severance benefits, including outstanding fringe benefits and unused vacation leave, are to be paid on or before May 25. 

OWTU representative Jameel Thomas said anxiety has now set in as workers are worried about how they will feed themselves and pay their bills when the money runs out.

“You don't know when the next bag of groceries is coming in, you don't know when your next bill is going to be paid. Everybody here is unemployed and now the job hunt begins. Because of the fact that we have 860 workers here and seeing on the news that 650 workers were retrenched from ArcelorMittal, you can see what is going to take place with skilled labour.

“The market is going to be saturated with a lot of skilled labourers, operators and drivers...We are now going to be in a position where you might see your own friend or comrade in an interview room waiting to be interviewed for the same position as you. It is going to be hard,” Thomas said.

 He said while some of the workers engaged in farming and taxi services that could help to bring in income, those administrative workers who were cut were the ones who would feel the brunt of unemployment.

Nidco to complete work on site

According to National Infrastructure Development Company's (Nidco) acting president Steve Garibsingh, Construtora OAS plans to employ several local contractors to complete outstanding work so that it can leave the site by the end of May 2016.

In response to questions from the Trinidad Guardian, Garibsingh said, "In December 2015, Construtora OAS demobilized from the site for the Christmas vacation with the intention to remobilize on January 5, 2016. To date, works are yet to resume and OAS has reported that it has several issues regarding payments to suppliers, sub-contractors and workers that restrict their ability to restart works.

To meet its contractual commitments, OAS Construtora plans to engage several local contractors to undertake outstanding works on the highway, so that it can leave the site by the end of May 2016. Discussions between OAS and local contractors are ongoing. This week, OAS gave an undertaking to the OWTU to pay severance benefits to 860 bi-monthly workers directly employed by OAS on or before May 25, 2016.

“NIDCO wishes to state that it is committed through the mandate given by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to complete the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin", the company said.​