LOSSES AND SKYROCKETING COSTS OF RAW MATERIALS, FORCE STAFF CUTS AT ARAWAK
By Emmanuel Joseph
More than 100 employees at the Arawak Cement Company, representing 70 per cent of the workforce, have been retrenched in an overhaul of the company’s operations.
General Manager Roberto Villarreal on Tuesday confirmed to Barbados TODAY that last Friday was the last day on the job at the Checker Hall, St Lucy company for 125 workers from the administration, operations and supervisory departments.
“Everybody has been notified of their packages and everything should be finalised by the end of this week or next month,” he disclosed.
Villarreal said the main reason for the restructuring was the skyrocketing cost of raw materials and the millions of dollars in losses incurred over the years.
He explained that a new business model which is now in place will see the 50 workers being retained for the core operation of the company which will be grinding clinker – the material used as the binder in many cement products, which is produced in the kilning stage during the production of cement – and cement production.
The Arawak official said negotiations which started in January with the two unions representing employees, the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), were finalised last week.
The company is hoping to turn around its financial fortunes under the new business model which will see clinker being imported from intra-regional and extra-regional sources.
“Up to this point, we have local clinker . . . to continue to supply the local market for almost the rest of the year. Our primary purpose is to get the clinker from our valid companies in the CARICOM [Caribbean Community] markets, Trinidad or Jamaica…any other plant outside of CARICOM…. But the main purpose is to continue to be supplied by CARICOM,” Villarreal said.
“We are confident that the new business model will remedy this situation,” Villarreal said.
Explaining the reason for the suspension of local production of clinker, the general manager said raw materials had increased by approximately 35 per cent.
The decision to restructure the operations was made unanimously by the Board of Directors of the parent company, Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) last week Monday.
In a notice issued on the website of the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange, the board said that in the interest of its viability, the Arawak Cement Company had suspended clinker production on March 15, 2023.
When Barbados TODAY reached out to TCL Group Managing Director Francisco Aguilera at his Trinidad office via telephone, he confirmed the retention of 30 per cent of the Arawak staff and explained that the Barbados operations had been under “financial stress” for the last six to seven years.
“The business in Barbados has, unfortunately, not been very good for some time,” he said.
The TCL Group, which also has operations in Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad, declared after-tax profits of $167.09 million for the nine months ended September 30, 2022. According to the latest quarterly financial report, that was an increase of 175 per cent over the same period the year before.
Aguilera explained that those profits were essentially earned by Jamaica.
The BWU which represents the bulk of the Arawak Cement Company employees said on Tuesday night that the retrenched workers welcomed their settlement.
“Several of them have been expressing relief that, for the most part, the process is progressing to their satisfaction. In fact, in the words of one employee, he is feeling a lot happier to be leaving with an enhanced package after feeling for months like he has been walking on eggshells,” the union’s General Secretary Toni Moore said in a pre-recorded statement.
“Interestingly enough, one of the demands coming from the employees was for us not to push back any more than we had on the company’s proposal to move from an integrated plant model to a milling operation.”
Moore said there were still some issues related to the finalisation and application of aspects of the agreement with the company that were under dispute and were “still loose”.
“We look forward to tightening up those soonest so as to give effect to as smooth a transition as possible for those workers who will be exiting permanently, and also for those who will likely be re-engaged or transferred to positions under a restructured Arawak Cement Company,” the union boss added.
The NUPW which represents a significant portion of the technical and supervisory staff at Arawak confirmed it had been in consultation with the company.
“The NUPW had made contributions to the proposed restructuring in our attempt to minimise the separation of the workers from the plant and to look at the terms and conditions of the proposed new jobs at the Arawak Cement Plant. As the workers’ representative, we also sought to secure the best separation packages considering what the Severance Payment Act requires and considering Arawak’s previous separation packages,” General Secretary Richard Greene told Barbados TODAY.
He added that the union also sought to ensure that members received all other entitlements and benefits owed to them.