Claxton Bay scrap iron workers warn: If we can’t eat, no one can

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Scrap-iron worker Devon Hayde speaks with reporters on Thursday while other workers, protesting the six-month ban on scrap-iron exports, look on. Photo by Marvin Hamilton

SCRAP iron workers in Claxton Bay have accused the Government, Opposition and the Scrap Iron Dealers Association of doing nothing to help them with scrap-iron exports being banned for six months.

As such, they have issued a warning. A spokesperson for the workers who blocked Temple Street, Claxton Bay with tree branches, tyres and scrap iron on Thursday, called on the Prime Minister to address their plight.

Devon Hayde said if this is not done, the workers will intensify their protests.

“We will have to carry it (protest) further and more devious.

“If we can’t eat, none of all you can eat.”

The workers were speaking after meeting with Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah at Temple Street.

Daniel Joseph said, “I have been working scrap iron for the last eight years of my life.” Joseph has four children and he does not know how he can afford to buy schoolbooks for them now.

“People have rent to pay. The landlord doesn’t want to know how (they will get their rent) in the next six months. They want us out their place.”

Looking at the other people around him, Joseph said the industry employs many young people.

“The devil finds work for idle hands.

“We are no criminals. We are coming out here, trying to get back an honest dollar. To try and get back out there and work hard.

“This is our way of life. This is what we know about. Hungry people is angry people.”

He slammed Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee for not helping them.

“He hasn’t reached here yet – driving a $2.5 million vehicle, and we’re hungry out here and he can’t reach here yet.”

Lee was questioned by police last week in relation to the purchase of a Mercedes Benz valued at $2.3 million which attracted a $1.4 million tax exemption.

It was alleged that Lee is not using the car and a party financier may have benefited. Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar defended Lee on this matter.

However, in a statement to the media on Thursday morning, Lee called on the government to have a heart for the workers and their families.

Lee said he had a meeting in Pointe-a-Pierre on Wednesday with some workers. He was accompanied by fellow MPs Rudranath Indarsingh (opposition shadow for labour) and Dinesh Rambally (opposition shadow for the office of the attorney general). Also present were executive members of the TT Scrap Iron Dealers Association led by president Allan Ferguson at my constituency office.

“Having listened to the 25-plus individuals, who were comprised of workers from all tiers of the industry inclusive of scrap-iron yard workers, dealers, scrap-iron truck drivers and collectors as well as industry stalwarts, it was clear that this rushed decision by the government, without any proper consultation of the industry, would have brutal consequences on citizens who will now struggle to put meals on the table, send children to school, and even repay loans.

“Having listened to the executive of the (association), it is clear that the government has acted totally recklessly by ignoring the fact that not only will tens of thousands be thrown onto the breadline, with this ban but it was done at a time when many of these workers were depending on this income to send their children back to school.”

Lee said the government’s move comes on the heels of the shutdown of the refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre. He described it as a “double blow of economic catastrophe” since many of the workers were part of the thousands who lost jobs when the refinery was closed.

“Like the association and scrap iron workers, we in the Opposition condemn any theft or destruction that has occurred with national infrastructure in the past, but it is a brazen lack of compassion and abdication of responsibility towards citizens that an entire industry is being punished for the actions of a few.

Another worker Keevon Perry said the association was not helping them.

“They have not reached here. So who is helping out us, the people?”

Perry said he was the breadwinner in his house.

“Without this job, there is nothing for us. No one is hiring us.”

He claimed the association was only seeing about itself and not its workers.

Hayde said many scrap-iron workers knew nothing about the meeting between the association and the UNC MPs.

“They went in one room and they had a discussion. We were out here in the rain and we got nothing from it.”

Hayde said, “Right now, we are appealing that we need our work back because we don’t have time any more.”

He said Claxton Bay is the hub of the scrap-iron industry.

“In the morning, you can see 107 (scrap-iron) vehicles leave Claxton Bay to work the whole of TT.”

He declared it is not right to now make 100-plus workers and their families suffer by closing the industry.

“You have to give us something right now, because it (protests) would not stop.”

Earlier in the day, police and fire officers cleared debris along the Southern Main Road in Claxton Bay after another group of residents protested the export ban. They vowed to continue their protests unless Dr Rowley announced the industry’s reopening.