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Steel company disagrees with union figure on layoffs

Published:Wednesday | December 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM

ArcelorMittal Point Lisas, a subsidiary of the world's leading steel and mining company, is disagreeing with the figures provided by the Steel Workers Union of Trinidad and Tobago (SWUTT), regarding the number of workers laid off in the twin-island last week.

ArcelorMittal has said "it was completely untrue and misleading" that it had sent home workers without any financial assistance during the holiday period, and that more than "have already signed up to receive vacation encashment".

The steel and mining company said it wanted to clarify "that it has laid off 480 workers of 533 bargaining unit workers", and not the figures quoted by the union.

Last week, SWUTT said ArcelorMittal Point Lisas was laying off around 600 employees with immediate effect and sent out letters to all its workers in that regard, and that only a few would remain at the plant to conduct routine maintenance from December 7 to January 15.

The layoffs were criticised by the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and, last Friday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said his administration would seek to hold talks with the company and the union.

In a statement, ArcelorMittal said managers with accrued vacation leave and knowing the company's position in the international steel market, had taken up the offer to proceed on paid vacation leave while managers without accrued vacation leave have been engaged to do alternative work at the Point Lisas plant.

The company said that over the last 10 years of its operations, it has suffered major financial losses for seven of those years, and that with uncertainties in the international steel market, it has not laid off or retrenched any of its permanent workforce in recent times and only laid off workers in December as a last resort.

The company said that challenges became critical at the start of this year when it initiated discussions with SWUTT on possible revisions to its footprint.

ArcelorMittal said the lay-offs "came only after the SWUTT was asked to present to workers a proposal from the company to proceed on accrued vacation days till mid-January, with pay, as they are entitled to in their industrial agreement, and any worker without sufficient holidays would be employed in alternative duties".

It said in spite of continuing decline in the production of steel products over the last year, due to uncompetitive costs and a slowdown in production, ArcelorMittal "never once laid off and retrenched its permanent workforce this year", but engaged SWUTT in discussions every step of the way.

Those meetings followed previous disclosures by ArcelorMittal that it would be shutting down operations temporarily, due to an over-supply of steel in the international market and the drying up of orders for its Direct Reduced Iron and steel products produced at Point Lisas.

- CMC