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MSJ expresses solidarity with Lake Asphalt workers and others who are owed pay

“[…] This development is a clear reflection of how those in authority treat those they feel do not count whilst spewing the refrain that we are all in this together. In this regard, we also note the plight of the workers of the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL), who have not been paid on time for the past year, are owed many months of salary and are in the dark about the future of the company and of their lives.

“The Movement for Social Justice expresses solidarity with the workers at Lake Asphalt and calls on the political directorate to engage the representative Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (CGWTU) in meaningful discussions on the way forward for the economic recovery and sustainability of the Company…”

 The following Letter to the Editor expressing solidarity with the beleaguered workers of Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Limited was submitted to Wired868 by David Abdulah, political leader of the Movement for Social Justice:

Photo: Lake Asphalt workers protest against non-payment of salaries in September 2021.
(via MSJ)

In the early 1970s, when the UK market switched to coal tar, asphalt became a much less popular product and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago took ownership of the business of extracting asphalt from the Pitch Lake in La Brea. The Company, Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Limited, is known internationally as the producer of Trinidad Lake asphalt (TLA).

It is a wholly owned state enterprise, situated in Brighton, La Brea, Trinidad and is charged with the commercial development of the Pitch Lake of Trinidad and Tobago, the world’s largest deposit of natural asphalt.

The Company’s vision statement reads thus: ‘Maximizing the Value from our Natural Asphalt for Company, Community, and Country’. Over the years, this company has facilitated the employment of residents of La Brea and environs and has been at the forefront of economic activity in the La Brea community, consistent with what the Company’s Vision Statement says in part.

Various attempts to diversify and revolutionise the operations of the company have not succeeded in generating the type of economic activity to make the Company self-sustainable. Sadly, in spite of the fact that our pitch is world renowned for its properties and is used in many countries to pave roads with excellent results, this has simply not been realised.

Photo: A tourist samples the merchandise at the Pitch Lake in La Brea.

Various factors, inclusive of allegations of corruption under various administrations, for which to the best of our knowledge no one has been charged, have also negatively impacted on the progressive development of the Company. There have been reports of sweet-heart deals and contracts that have not benefited the company.

Additionally, Lake Asphalt’s problems worsened with the closure of Petrotrin and the shutting down of the refinery, which resulted in Lake Asphalt not having a local supply of bitumenkey for the paving of roads. The MSJ repeatedly warned that the refinery closure was a very bad decision and pointed out the negative consequences for Lake Asphalt.

Those chickens have now come home to roost.

It is very disturbing and totally unacceptable that workers in these challenging economic times have had to resort to going down on their knees, begging to be paid outstanding salaries. All other effortsmeetings with Management and the Board and the writing of letters—have produced no results.

What is occurring at this company did not happen overnight. It is thus mind-boggling that, as soon as this protest activity became public, the Minister of Energy was suddenly able to seek and obtain in short order Cabinet approval for a subvention to assist the Company with payment of expenses, inclusive of wages.

Photo: La Brea MP and Minister of Labour Stephen McClashie.
(via Ministry of Labour)

The question to be asked, however, is this: what role did Mr Stephen McClashie, former board member, now minister of labour and member of Parliament for La Brea, in whose constituency this Company is located, play in addressing the plight of these workers, most of whom are his constituents?

Did he make interventions to his Cabinet colleagues for the subvention? And, if so, why did his Cabinet colleagues not act right away?

This development is a clear reflection of how those in authority treat those they feel do not count whilst spewing the refrain that we are all in this together. In this regard, we also note the plight of the workers of the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL), who have not been paid on time for the past year, are owed many months of salary and are in the dark about the future of the company and of their lives.

This disrespect for the workers and disregard for their lives and the well-being of their families by the government is yet another example of how the D Keith Rowley-led PNM government cares not for the working people of Trinidad and Tobago. Petrotrin, Lake Asphalt, TSTT, EFCL, TIDCOthe list is very long. And growing!

Photo: Petrotrin workers listen to union representatives.
(via OWTU)

The Movement for Social Justice expresses solidarity with the workers at Lake Asphalt and calls on the political directorate to engage the representative Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (CGWTU) in meaningful discussions on the way forward for the economic recovery and sustainability of the Company.

Our Pitch Lake is a valuable natural resource and a national treasure. It can and must be the basis for significant economic activity in La Brea and south-west Trinidad.

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