PORT OF SPAIN –– Pointedly wearing a red People’s National Movement (PNM) T-shirt, former ArcelorMittal port coordinator Joanette Pariag stood at the Point Lisas roundabout Monday to send a clear message to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley: “This is not what we voted for.”
“How many more must die Dr Rowley? Our lives are in your hands. Act now!!! This is not what we voted for,” her banner stated.
The unemployed, single mother with a daughter at the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine campus was among the 644 workers laid off by the steel plant in March.
With her Steel Workers Union (SWUTT) colleagues mourning the death of retrenched Central Trinidad Steel Ltd (Centrin) operator David Francis, scores of frustrated former employees of ArcelorMittal, Centrin, Tube City IMS and a few service companies created a Carnival-like atmosphere on the streets.
Francis, 50, a former operator at the company, committed suicide last Thursday at his Perseverance home. Family members said he could not face the mounting debt and other financial problems. He was among 200 workers laid off 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.
It was like J’Ouvert in April as a festive rhythm section using an empty Crix tin, a metal triangle, horn, cowbell, bell and plastic bottles, accompanied passionate screams from protesters chipping around the roundabout singing,
“Robert, we want we money,
Imbert, we want we money,
Rowley, we want we money,
Jennifer, we want we money.”
The song changed to Black Stalin’s Bun Dem as they set fire to a heap of company branded coveralls. And although Couva police and estate security kept a watchful eye as they directed traffic to and from the busy industrial estate, they did nothing to restrain the protesters.
SWUTT president Christopher Henry said Francis’ death must not be in vain and that the Government must act before another life is lost to depression. He said the union foretold the social impact the mass retrenchment would have, given the unavailability of jobs amid an economic depression.
He said company officials approached Francis’ common-law wife, Chandrawatie Nanlal, on Friday, hours after his death and offered to pay the family his severance payments.
This was confirmed by Nanlal Monday as she awaited the autopsy results on his body at the Forensic Science Centre in St James.
Henry said while 200-plus workers were fired by Centrin, the company was only seeking to pay Francis’ severance while the other workers drowned in debt.