Caribbean Cement workers demand NWU'S Valentine resignation

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 12, 2019

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HOURLY-paid workers at the Caribbean Cement Company are demanding the resignation of National Workers' Union (NWU) President Granville Valentine, whom they accuse of selling them out to the company.

They also claim that he has a conflict of interest as their trade union representative.

News reaching the Jamaica Observer late last week was that union members at the cement company called a meeting on Wednesday and issued a letter to their union chief, Kenneth Chambers, stating that they will no longer be requiring Valentine's service. A petition demanding Valentine's departure has also been signed by at least 35 workers. Valentine was not invited to the meeting.

When contacted, Chambers said he could not speak on the matter.

Meanwhile, sources have revealed that trouble is brewing between the workers and the company.

“I don't know where to start but we are having a lot of issues, but the one that we are fighting right now is the one with Granville Valentine who is supposed to be the organiser of our union,” an employee with over 20 years' service told the Sunday Observer.

“It is evident that he has sold us out to the company. Right now we sent out a petition along with a letter saying that we don't need his service no more. We have about 35 persons who signed the petition already,” the employee continued.

The letter that was signed by union members of the company, and shared with the Sunday Observer, read:

“We the hourly paid employees of Carib Cement Company are very much dissatisfied with our union representative Mr Granville Valentine. Mr Valentine shows scant regard to the employees he should be representing, and this behaviour is most disdainful.

“In a few instances, he has spoken to the employees in a condescending manner. In a recent meeting he conducted at the plant, we felt very much slighted by his behaviour, and as such have lost confidence in Mr Valentine. We need someone to represent us and not hurl threatening comments at us the employees. This is not what we are bargaining for, or what we are paying our union dues for. We demand proper representation and feel very much oppressed by the individual from your company who should be treating our interest as a priority. We, therefore, demand that Mr Valentine be replaced with immediate effect. We cannot promise that things will be business as usual with this sort of disrespectful behaviour from your employee.”

Valentine denied allegations of a sell-out when the Sunday Observer contacted him, and abruptly ended the telephone call as the newspaper sought further information.

The dissatisfaction with Valentine reportedly has to do with problems that the workers have been having with the company, which they accuse of cutting members of their permanent staff, while taking on contract workers.

“The whole gist about it is that they want to contract us out of our work. They don't want to be paying out any benefits and have no responsibility. Down to our health card, in some instances, they want to take it from us,” one worker said.

“Just the other day, Granville presented something to us where them saying that if you are not over 50 years old when you are retiring, you won't be getting any health benefits. So if I leave the work at age 45, and I have been working with the company for about 20 years, I can't benefit from my health card if I am to leave. And that is unfair because if you give the company 20 years already, and them send you home, you won't have any health insurance,” said the disgruntled worker.

Following the report on similar complaints by a contract worker in the Sunday Observer two weeks ago, as well as a follow-up on complaints by members of their staff, Peter Donkersloot, general manager of Caribbean Cement, responded to the Sunday Observer:

“The company underwent a period of transition which ended in 2017. Our commitment to our employees is to provide a stable and sustainable environment where their development is prioritised and of which they and their families can be proud,” he said.

“Our people are our greatest assets and a core competitive advantage. We believe we have a great team and equally offer a great value proposition. Our employee benefits package is solid and includes, but is not limited to, health and life insurance coverage for current and past employees and their dependents; scholarships for employees and their children; company loans; housing grants for first-time homeowners; matching savings; and a pension plan. We have a holistic health and wellness programme which includes a sports club and a gym with a personal trainer; a nurse, doctor and nutritionist at the plant; and a range of ongoing fitness and wellness initiatives. We believe in developing our people and have continuous training programmes both here in Jamaica and overseas. These are, in addition, competitive salary and overtime payment terms,” Donkersloot said.

Further to that, it was underscored that 80 per cent of the company's employees are permanent. However, the worker who spoke with the Sunday Observer on condition of anonymity alleged that the company has been scaling down its permanent staff, some of whom were brought back as contract workers.

“There is about 60-plus unionised workers now, and before the Mexicans took over it was about 200. And the problem is that those workers are still there, but they have contracted them out and paying them little or nothing now. They have dwindled down the workforce from the Mexicans have come here, and they are doing things that is against workers' rights,” the worker alleged.

“For example, them can't send home a man and by the next day somebody else fill him position. When you are retiring somebody, you retire the position, not the person. And they keep retiring persons and still the position is there,” the worker added.

The employee said that the rationale given by Caribbean Cement is that the company is overstaffed. He, however, questioned the increase in the number of contractors now at the company.

“Workers who are in them 50s, them force them fi leave the work. Them a say a young people time now, and even after those people leave, them still taking on more contractors. We have a bag of contractors out there now. So how can you be overstaffed and you still taking on people to work?”

He also said that the company has been trying to buy the health benefits from the workers in an effort to take on more contractors.

“They are trying to take away some of the benefits from us. Them also trying to take away our bonus because, according to them, we are overpaid. Recently they caused us to sell out, saying they are trying to save workers. They are asking us to sell our discomfort to save workers, and just as we do it, the workers still go home. The other day what caused a meeting to blow up is that you have some guys who are there for over 15 years and them a work hard, yet they are what them call casual workers.”

A causal worker, he explained, is someone who is employed full-time by company but is not permanent.

“So now they are asking us permanent workers to give up some of our benefits in order for these guys who are casuals to get the work. They even want to take away the nightly rations that we get in case we get hungry on the job. They suggest that if these are to get the work, then we will have to think about giving up some of our benefits to facilitate these guys. And the argument we are hearing is that they want the same end of year bonus and the rations,” the employee said.

“But they only want to give us one year money for that, and it is not tax free. That can't be fair. They are so willing to buy it from us but they are not offering us anything,” said the employee, who also questioned Valentine's commitment to the welfare of the workers.

“Is like them holding us down and making demands, and that is what Granville is doing because every time him have a meeting with us, him only come and a demand, saying this is what the company want. Him not telling us what he is trying to do to counteract it. Is only what the company want and telling us that we must think about selling this and that. That can't be good for the workers,” the employee stated.

The worker further alleged that Valentine has been working in the interest of the company's management instead of defending workers' interest.

“If Granville Valentine is supposed to be our organiser, I don't think that he is supposed to be promoting anything for Cement Company. There is this screen monitor that shows when we punch in and out and he is on the monitor as the company's human resource person.

“Not only that, every time there is a trip, them carry him. If there is a groundbreaking, he is there in our uniform. And based on what I know about unions and what the union stands for, that is a conflict of interest. And I get to understand that he is advising the company while he is leading us,” said the worker.

Before sharply ending the call from the Sunday Observer last Thursday, Valentine directed the newspaper to seek further answers from the management of the company.


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