“Stop the layoff of the workers; layoff the government,” was among the messages of employees of Gravel, Concrete & Emulsion Production Corporation (GCEPC) as they protested through the streets of St George’s Tuesday.
The protest was sparked by company letters sent to workers, advising of plans for the temporary retrenchment of employees, starting with 55 on November 5.
The corporation, whose products include gravel, concrete blocks and ready-mix concrete, said it’s facing a “deepening financial and operational crisis,” and is unable to meet its loan obligation.
However, GCEPC workers are upset that none of the management staff is being affected by the layoffs.
They also complain that no consideration was given to sacrifices made on behalf of the corporation, including signing an October 14 agreement “for a three-year wage freeze to save jobs.”
In a petition to Prime Minister Thomas, Finance Minister Nazim Burke and Works Minister Denneth Modeste, GCEPC workers demanded urgent government action “to save our jobs to protect the livelihood of our families.”
President-general of the Technical and Allied Workers Union (TAWU), Senator Chester Humphrey, said GCEPC employees will be monitoring the government’s handling of the situation.
“There is an election at hand,” he said. “The workers will have to decide whether or not this government, with Nazim Burke and others, is worthy of their confidence and a return to office.”
Haydn Alexander, employed at GCEPC for 15 years, said government could assist by ensuring that the corporation is contracted as a supplier for some of the state-run infrastructural projects now underway in the country.
“The state has a lot of projects doing, including the Grenville bus terminal; the Grenville market and the abattoir,” he noted.
“We want to know why the state isn’t giving Gravel and Concrete any work on these projects. They buy stones from private companies and we have a state-owned quarry.”
The workers’ petition to government calls for:
• A temporary lifting on the ban on sand mining at Telescope, St Andrew
• A removal of the 15 percent Value Added Tax on mining and concrete work products sold by GCEPC
• Ensure that all state construction projects include Gravel and Concrete in their supply contracts
• The immediate appointment of a board of directors for GCEPC, and the convening of “an urgent meeting” with directors. The meeting must include the Works Minister, GCEPC employees and TAWU – their bargaining agents.
Tuesday’s protest wound its way to the vicinity of the Botanical Gardens, where government houses most of its ministries.
The protesting workers, except for a small delegation led by Humphrey, were barred from entering the gates to the ministerial complex. Inside one of the rooms, Prime Minister Thomas was holding a news briefing.
He announced that as of Monday, a new GCEPC board of directors had been appointed.
“I can’t give you the details but a board was appointed,” the prime minister told reporters.
He also said cabinet had blocked the move by GCEPC to dismiss workers.
“There was no dismissal; there was a proposal,” Thomas said. “Cabinet decided to put this on hold until further discussions with the board.”
The opposition New National Party (NNP), meanwhile, has said that it is “extremely concerned” at the developments involving GCEPC.
“The workers are being treated with gross unfairness and a lack of care and consideration by the company’s management and government,” an NNP statement said Tuesday. “The worsening social and economic conditions require an immediate political solution.”
According to the NNP, the political solution is “returning to the polls in the soonest possible time so as to give the people an opportunity to choose a government of their choice.”