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Suruj: Work stoppage on highway costing millions

The saga continues between Brazilian Company, OAS Construtora, – the main contractor of the $7.4 billion Point Fortin Highway project – and its workers as talks over project continuity and wages have officially broken down. Branch President of the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), Roland Garcia, informed Newsday of the breakdown yesterday, shortly before a 10am meeting at the San Fernando branch of the Ministry of Labour on St James Street San Fernando.

President General of the OWTU, Ancel Roget was also in attendance, along with an OAS representative and officials from the Ministry of Labour.

The meeting at the Ministry is the latest attempt to resolve the labour dispute which has been on-going for approximately one week. Garcia said, “Talks broke down yesterday and we have referred the meeting to the Ministry of Labour with which we are about to convene a meeting around 10am.” Attempts by Newsday to obtain information regarding the outcome of yesterday’s talks proved futile as neither Garcia nor Roget could be reached by press time.

Notably, the country has already lost millions of dollars due to the stalled work on the highway and faces a possibility of a fine as stipulated in the original joint agreement between OAS and the Government, through the National Infrastructure Development Company Limited (NIDCO).

Dr Carson Charles, president of NIDCO, affirmed yesterday that NIDCO does intend to continue the highway. Charles said that based on information given to him, the workers, having been unable thus far to resolve the labour dispute, wanted to meet with the union and the Ministry of Labour in order to bring an end to the protests.

President of the Penal/Debe Business Chamber, Said Hosein, weighed in on the matter saying, “I understand their issues over security of tenure for workers, in that, we have also heard that OAS is going to pull out, or has intentions of pulling out. We understand that some of the senior personnel have already left, and therefore, I could understand because of the lack of communication with the workers, and the insecurity as to what will happen.

But we also would have heard through NIDCO, that the highway will continue using local contractors because we’ve been hearing through the media, for the past six/seven months that local contractors were going to become engaged in the exercise. So all in all, let good sense prevail and these matters be resolved, because we look forward to the completion of the highway to Point Fortin.” Meanwhile, former Minister of Works, Dr Surujrattan Rambachan, expressed his concern over the current labour dispute which has resulted in the stoppage of work on the highway, contending that the work stoppage is costing the country millions of dollars daily. Moreover, he added, “I hope the current government doesn’t reverse the decision to continue the highway in its present format – Debe to Mon Desir and Mosquito Creek to Point Fortin. The former Government, managed to maintain a relationship with the trade union with minimal disruption and it’s very disheartening to see what is happening. Every day of work stoppage is costing the country millions.” He continued that the behaviour of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) has engendered fear among the population as many fear that they will discontinue projects started under the Peoples Partnership, as well as lose their jobs.

In addition, he asserted that should the project be discontinued, it could not be because of a lack of funding, given that the previous administration had originally raised a bond of $1.5 billion, and were in the process of raising another $500 million when they lost the general election on September 7.

NEWSDAY 

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