Tobago Agrobusiness company sends home contract workers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Secretary of Food Security Nathisha Charles-Pantin, seated right, and her assistant secretary Nigel Taitt, seated left, with members of the Tobago Agribusiness Development Company board of directors. PHOTO COURTESY THA –

CHAIRMAN of the Tobago Agrobusiness Development Company (TADCO) Ricardo Alfred claims there were “no clear guidelines” for hiring workers for the company under the former PNM-led THA administration.

As such, he said, the hiring practices at TADCO are being reviewed and streamlined to facilitate greater efficiency and transparency.

In May 2020, former chief secretary Ancil Dennis said the then executive council had decided to merge three THA companies – the Cassava Company, Fish Processing Company and Cold Storage Company – into TADCO to better address the objectives of the sector.

It fell under the purview of the then division of food production, forestry and fisheries (now Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development).

But on Tuesday, the workers, who were offered three-year contracts with TADCO in October 2020, received letters from the company’s management stating that their contracts would end on September 30, 2023.

In the letter, which was circulated on social media, CEO Denecio Salazar told the workers, “During your tenure at (the) company, your contribution would have allowed for the development and growth of the company. Noteworthy, you would have assisted in the company’s transition subsequent to the amalgamation of the three previous entities.

“We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours and thank you sincerely for your commitment during your tenure.”

Dennis, in a post on his Facebook page on Wednesday, called for TADCO’s line secretary Nathisha Charles-Pantin and the entire board to resign.

He said, “When I was Chief Secretary, the PNM restructured three companies and formed TADCO without sending home a single person. We even preserved the years of service of every employee.

“Today, under this callous and clueless administration, TADCO is now an all-fours hosting entity that brings food from Trinidad to feed Tobagonians while bypassing Tobago farmers.”

Dennis added, “Having strayed from its original mandate and lost its way, the company yesterday (Tuesday) virtually dismissed most if not all of its contract employees.”

On Wednesday, Alfred told Newsday there was “no interview process” governing TADCO when the three companies were merged.

“They took the same persons from the three companies and put them into one company. I am unclear as to what they expected from that.

“So what has happened is that the contracts came to an end and we, as a responsible board, have to be able to have some transparency as it relates to persons and their contracts.”

He said going forward, all positions will be up for grabs.

“Apart from people applying they will now have to bring forward their qualifications so that we can do a proper assessment to determine who will be re-employed.”

Alfred said there was no guarantee workers would be reinstated.

“There is no entitlement to persons getting their contracts renewed. This new contract is now open for anyone in Tobago and other places so that we have a fair and very good cadre of persons to choose from.”

Previously, Alfred claimed, some people in the same position and performing the same tasks were not being paid equally.

“That cannot be.”

He also claimed some workers, with three CXC passes or less, were making more money than those with first or post graduate degrees.

“There was not a clear guideline on how they would have gone about giving these people contracts. But there must be a clear structure going forward. At the end of the day, all that we are trying to do is to ensure that the process is transparent and that there is a form of integrity.”

Alfred said TADCO must not be seen as nepotistic.

“It is not a case where you have persons who are given a job because they are the nephews of managers or other high-level staff. We need to really have some transparency. That is all I am trying to do.”

He said the workers, whose contracts were due to end on September 30, knew that it was coming.

“Everybody knows their terms of contract, when they were employed and when it came to an end. All I am trying to do is to ensure that we have a proper paper trail.

“I, as the chairman, must ensure that things are done above board so that if there is any conversation as it relates to the Integrity in Public Life Act I must be able to say that this is what happened. I don’t want to have to say this person was this worker’s nephew and this is how they got their job.”