PORT OF SPAIN –– Government is working out a plan to assist retrenched workers in Trinidad and Tobago, including the 644 terminated ArcelorMittal employees, by matching private sector vacancies with the skills of retrenched workers, Minister of Labour Jennifer Baptiste-Primus announced yesterday.
The minister revealed this after a meeting with ArcelorMittal officials and a subsequent meeting with Minister of Trade Paula Gopee-Scoon to discuss how they could help all retrenched workers. The ArcelorMittal meeting involved the company’s managing director Robert Bellisle, secretary Vijayalakshmi Jaigopal, legal adviser Reginald Armour, SC, and a Price Waterhouse representative.
This followed a meeting Baptiste-Primus held last weekend with the Steel Workers Union after the company last Friday informed workers it was closing its local operation and terminating their employment immediately.
Baptiste-Primus said yesterday’s meeting confirmed the company was not yet insolvent and that process had not yet been triggered, though there was an intention to do so. She said ArcelorMittal had signalled it would follow the process under the law and by April 5 a liquidator was expected to be appointed.
“Once that [liquidator] takes over, ArcelorMittal as a company comes to an end but as I speak it is still a live entity and that has responsibilities under the law,” she added, noting that the payment of workers’ salaries would be up to last Friday when workers were terminated.
The company also clarified union concerns on benefit plans and gave an undertaking to meet several plans. But on the issue of workers over age 50 accessing the pension plan, she said ArcelorMittal officials expressed concern that would have implications, involving use of more money, for the company.
Baptiste-Primus, who said pension was a statutory obligation that must be met, added: “I sought to remind [ArcelorMittal] that no employer would employ someone over age 50, so those employees between 50 and 59 really need to have almost immediate access to the pension for survivability, as they are out of jobs and there’s no hope of an employer employing them. In order to live they have to access the plan.”
She said the company promised to consider that in discussions with its provider and principal.
ArcelorMittal also has an Employee Assistance Plan to provide counselling for workers up to April 5 when the liquidator steps in. The company also gave an undertaking to meet with the union on concerns, she said.
ArcelorMittal also confirmed it would no longer be appealing the recent Industrial Court judgment against it, in which compensation for laid-off workers was ordered.
Baptiste-Primus reiterated that government had a ten-point plan to assist all retrenched workers revolving around matching workers’ skills with job vacancies.
Government is collaborating with the manufacturing, maritime and agriculture sectors, TTMA, Energy Chamber, Amcham and T&T Chamber on that, she said.
A job matching event for retrenched workers, titled Turning Adversity Into Opportunity, will be held on April 5, the day the ArcelorMittal liquidator starts operating.
It will involving all business sector stakeholders plus the National Training Agency to provide certification for retrenched workers who have skills but lack certification.
The plan also involves converting workers into technical/vocation instructors via the National Skills Centre and various ministries from Education to Social Development.
Baptiste-Primus said the ministry and union had been meeting ArcelorMittal since last year on various issues but the prospect of it closing was never hinted or aired.
She said the People’s National Movement’s manifesto included a review of labour laws, and ways of preventing a repeat of the ArcelorMittal situation may have to be dealt with in that. But she added one had to be balanced and careful of draconian measures that might discourage foreign or local investors.
She said acquisition of ArcelorMittal was not her remit but that of the Ministry of Finance with whom the company would be speaking with as well.
Government is establishing a National Retrenchment Register by the end of this week to track job losses, Minister of Labour Jennifer Baptiste-Primus added yesterday.
She said that was being done since government suspected the number of retrenched workers was more than numbers given recently because the law did not require companies to report retrenched employees if the number if less than five.
Three weeks ago in Parliament, she said the number of those retrenched up to then was 846 but she admitted it could be more.
She said she was also meeting the Bankers’ Association and T&T Mortgage Finance company today to seek concessions so that financial institutions would not foreclose to penalize retrenched workers.
“Bad times don’t last, it picks up. For workers who service their loans, that must carry a value towards restructuring loans. There are many ways for relief to be brought to those retrenched,” she added.