With the odd cleaning job inadequate to settle his mounting debt, fired Central Trinidad Steel Ltd (Centrin) operator David Francis thought he would end his troubles when he committed suicide outside his Couva home on Thursday night.
It was a shocker for members of the Steel Workers Union (SWUTT) who blamed the tragedy on the Government and Centrin's parent company, Bhagwansingh Group of Companies Ltd, since the former workers have not been paid severance benefits since they were retrenched on January 11.
On April 13, SWUTT filed a court application to contest Centrin over the non-payment of severance benefits.
On February 24, Francis, 50, a P5 (Pulpit) operator at the company since April 2004 was among the 200 workers terminated by Centrin as the company shut down operations at Point Lisas. It came as a result of ArcelorMittal's closure. ArcelorMittal provided raw material for Centrin to produce its metal products.
The Guardian contacted the Bhagwansingh Group of Companies Ltd yesterday but was told the directors Terry Bhagwansingh and Vinoo Ramoutar and anyone else with the authority to speak on behalf of the company had already left for the weekend.
Francis' common-law wife, Chandrawatie Nanlal, said the father of three had a loan at Venture Credit Union to pay as their house is under renovation. Speaking at their home in Perseverance, she said Francis was searching for a new job and in the meantime they would clean yards for income.
She said everything was well in their 17-year-old relationship with them attending a boat ride last Sunday and cooking together on Thursday.
Nanlal said he appeared his usual jolly self, but while watching television together in their bedroom on Thursday night, he got up and left the room. Thinking that he was going out to have a drink, she said she walked onto the porch to ensure the door was closed and found him hanging from a rope which was tied to a rafter. He was already dead by the time Couva police arrived. Investigators classified the death as a suicide.
"I told him if he was going out the road to just push in the door so when he came back he would not have to call me. When I watched my phone, I saw it was 10.15 so I said to myself, 'let me get up and see if he closed the door.' When I got up, I saw the door open and when I walked up, I saw him hanging," Nanlal said.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, she said she called her son and told him his father was dead, but he too was in disbelief, saying that daddy was just standing there.
"We did not have any argument or anything. I would not lie. You see me and David, we do live real good. Anything I want, he does buy it. I don't have any problem. If he drink, I do not vex," she said.
She was unable to say why he decided to end his life, as he never gave any indication that he was depressed or frustrated. Even his brother Sheldon said his family never saw it coming. He showed an unfinished kitchen with cupboards that the father of three, who is also a mason, was building to make his family home more comfortable.
Close friend and former colleague Rajesh Baboolal said he spoke to him around 3 pm Thursday and they discussed plans to look for work. He said there was an upcoming job that Francis and two other friends were supposed to start.
Union wary of more trauma
While Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus has set May 18 as the date for consultation on the amendment of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act, SWUTT second vice-president Ramkumar Narinesingh said government's intervention has to come now before more lives are lost.
Narinesingh said the union had warned of the severe psychological impact the job losses would have on workers and it was further strained when they could not access money from their Unit Trust plans. He said while citizens are dying, Government continues to take a hands-off approach.
"The union has always warned of this type of scenario given the magnitude of what has happened with ArcelorMittal, Centrin and Tube City IMS. We are hoping that this type of situation does not happen again, but our heads are not in the sand. We know that workers are under a lot of financial duress and we are saying that the possibility of this happening again is very real.
"Therefore, we are saying whatever remedial action that has to be taken, has to be taken now. It cannot wait for no May 18 consultation to take place because people are literally suffering."
Narinesingh said another colleague, Richard Coombs, is in serious condition at hospital after crashing into a truck last night. He said Coombs had to resort to using his car as a PH taxi since being dismissed. He said Government needed to protect workers from local companies that were adopting ArcelorMittal's attitude in shutting down operations and leaving workers penniless.