Legitimate strike action by five bargaining units comprising 600 cement workers in total, members of the ICEM affiliate Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) of Trinidad and Tobago, turned into a company lockout early this week as Trinidad Cement Ltd. (TCL) seeks to gain individual work agreements to break the strike.
The OWTU began a 90-day strike action on 27 February at the company’s two cement and ready-mix bag plants at Claxton Bay and Mayo, but the company countered that on Monday, 5 March, by issuing intent to lockout notice. That means both TCL and TCL Packaging, part of the Caribbean cement company’s TCL Group, can now try to coerce staff into signing yellow-dogs contracts.
The OWTU is confident cement workers will continue to man the barriers and also has expressed a desire to return to the conciliation process. The two sides, negotiating a 2009-2011 contract, are split on the wage issue, with OWTU seeking 16% while TCL is offering only 7%. The OWTU signed a contract for a total of 9% in wage increases over a similar period recently for 5,000 oil workers employed by state-held Petrotrin. (See ICEM report here.)
OWTU President General Ancel Roget Addresses Cement Workers
Foto: Rishi Ragoonath/Trinidad & Tobago Guardian
The cement strike sent shock waves through the twin-island nation’s construction industry after management announced cement inventories would only last one week. TCL immediately began importing cement and ready-mix from its Caribbean Cement subsidiary in Jamaica and its Arawak Cement in Barbados.
The strike became tense on the evening of 28 February and morning on 29 February when police drew guns and swung batons at strikers as forces left the factory Claxton Bay. The OWTU filed a formal complaint with the police over certain officers’ use of force in confronting the strikers.
Since that incident, calm has been maintained at picket lines, and the OWTU has kept a vigilant strike camp near TCL’s plant in Claxton Bay. OWTU and TCL held conciliation meetings between 9 February and 23 February, but strike notice was then given when the company refused to increase its wage offer.