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Caroni workers down tools over pension plan

By Radhica Sookraj, Trinidad Guardian, 17 May 2000

OPERATIONS at Usine Ste Madeleine sugar factory came to a halt yesterday, after daily-paid workers downed tools for six hours to protest Caroni (1975) Ltd's pension plan.

Over 250 workers started demonstrating from around midday, causing a shutdown of the factory.

More than 65 taskers, loaded with canes, remained at a standstill in the factory's compound.

Work resumed at around 6.15 pm, following an emergency meeting between officials of the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers' Trade Union and Caroni chief executive officer, Sharma Lalla.

When the Guardian visited the scene, Ramesh Bhagwansingh, a worker, said deductions were being made from workers' salaries but it was not being credited to the pension plan.

Another worker shouted: "Shut down Caroni!

Is too much stupidness going on here!" Several tasker drivers said if the canes remained on the compound, the quality would deteriorate.

Over 100,000 tonnes of cane already had been left to waste at the Malgretoute Scale in Princes Town after a major scale broke down last week.

"This whole system has to be revised. We labour going down the drain," said Boodlal Bhagwandeen.

It was learnt that in December, a pension plan was formulated where employees were required to contribute one-third of the premiums and the company, two-thirds.

Workers said they received a six per cent increase in their salaries, but five per cent went to their pension plan and the other one per cent went towards union dues.

"So we end up with nothing. They feel they smart. They taking we money and saying it going to pension," Bhagwandeen said.

Lalla explained there had been a "dysfunction in the accounting system," which caused the problems.

He admitted over $64 million already had been deducted from the salaries of daily paid workers.

Lalla promised the company's executive would review the pension plan and remedy the situation if workers returned to their jobs.

Following an emergency meeting with ATSGWTU and Caroni CEO last night, a Contributory Pensioner Monetary Committee was set up to resolve the issue.

Jones said last night over $68 million had been deducted from workers salaries but they did not know if the money was credited to the pension plan.

He indicated the committee would meet periodically and report back to workers within a fortnight.

Workers on the 3-11 shift resumed duties around 6.15 pm yesterday following the emergency meeting.