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Venezuelan workers are here to teach locals – Manager

Venezuelan workers are here to teach locals – Manager

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Managing Director of St Vincent Shipyard Limited (SSL) Daniel Ravotti says that workers there have nothing to fear when it comes to their jobs, as the company has no plans of laying off anyone.

Ravotti’s comments came on Wednesday, March 16, following a release issued the day before by the National Workers Movement (NWM),{{more}} which stated that the trade union was concerned over developments at the shipyard and marina.

“What you are hearing is a big fat lie, a big, big, fat, fat lie,” said Ravotti on Wednesday, while giving SEARCHLIGHT a tour of the facility.

“Most of that is just lies. Companies have up and downs, but the situation of laying off is not true. We didn’t have vessels for one month, so I was trying to do a rotating system, because business is slow … and I was advised it was not proper,” explained Ravotti.

“We treat this business as family and we are not giving up on people; this is a big misunderstanding,” said Ravotti.

The Venezuelan said that in his opinion, the talk of a shift system is being politicized, but persons must understand that they are here to help develop the shipyard and provide jobs and technologies that will make St Vincent and the Grenadines a point of reference in the Caribbean.

The press release from the NWM, however, painted a different picture, stating that since taking over the operations of the shipyard and marina, “the Venezuelan run company has been using every tactic to ensure that the former employees of the Ottley Hall Shipyard and Marina, who are Vincentians and were offered “continuous employment” by St Vincent Shipyard Limited, are terminated without severance.”

The release, signed by NWM president Noel Jackson said that the company recently made a request to terminate the services of 23 Vincentian workers, while Venezuelan workers are employed at the shipyard and do not possess work permits.

The NWM also claims that the company is stalling the renewal of the collective agreement they inherited on taking over the operations at Ottley Hall.

“Workers who fall sick cannot obtain sickness benefit from the NIS, as their contributions are deducted and not paid in; workers are being deprived of basic safety gear and materials,” Jackson alleged in the release.

“Venezuelan supervisors are abusing the local workers; including the use of obscene language in the process of giving instructions to the workers. Workers are being given letters of warning and suspension without justification and are sometimes withdrawn within hours when it is understood that the worker had contacted the union.”

Jackson said also that the St Vincent Shipyard Limited has been refusing to meet with the union to address the issues mentioned.

“It is our belief that St Vincent Shipyard Limited is using these tactics to get rid of the workers organization at Ottley Hall; which includes their request for permission to terminate twenty three (23) local workers; while ex-patriot workers are doing some work that the local workers can perform competently.

“The NWM is calling on the Ministry of Labour and other relevant agencies to intervene in this matter before it gets messy.”

The NWM said it is also concerned because it appears that the Venezuelan workers are not being properly processed and the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment should take note of what is going on in light of the threat of the Zika virus.

Speaking to SEARCHLIGHT by telephone on Wednesday, Jackson said that initially, persons were told that Venezuelan workers would only be used to train locals, but now it seems as if the local workers are being replaced by the Venezuelans.

“You can’t go in a man country and do that. You have to respect the laws and the culture of a country or you better off home. I am not going to allow that here; it is not going to happen. They will have to leave here if they don’t get themselves together,” stressed Jackson.

The NWM president said that while he welcomes foreign investors, “we have to ensure people respect us.”

He said that the NWM knows that changes come with development, “but you have to ensure the rights of people are preserved as development must have a package that guarantees the rights of the local people.”

Jackson further added, “I’m not going to sit down and let that happen. They helped us, but this is too heavy a price and they have to respect the laws and culture”.

He said that before the shipyard changed hands, the NWM was seeking to have the former manager Paul Cyrus and former chair of the board of directors Ken Boyea renew the collective agreement, but the renewal process was stalled, for whatever reason.

He said that in his opinion, the new management does not want to sign the agreement either.

“….they want to get us out and we would not stand for it. We are a small country and we have pride and this is not going to happen,” said Jackson, who added that he is a supporter of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government, but he is also the watchdog for local workers.

Offering further comments, Ravotti said that they have been working effectively since July 1 last year, and the SSL is willing to work out the terms of the collective agreement with Jackson and the NWM.

He noted that the immigration/work permit issues are being dealt with by the immigration department through a prominent lawyer.

“We do not want to bring Venezuelans; what we want to do is teach and create more skilled locals by using the Venezuelans. The Venezuelans are going back home; their families are there; none of them have families here; they are just coming to train people,” said Ravotti.

The Venezuelan manager said his company is hoping to come up with a counter-proposal to the NWM’s collective agreement that was sent to the former management, while workers who want to join the union may do so.

“We want to try to establish an agreement with them, but we have to check the trade union act also, because he (Jackson) doesn’t have more than half the workers with the union, so giving him the full representation of the workers might be against the will of some of the workers too, because most of the workers are not with the union.”

Ravotti noted that of the 37 employees, about 14 or 15 of them are members of the NWM. He also revealed that since his arrival, only one person has been laid off and that was because that person, the former head of the machine shop, made a huge mistake that cost the company thousands of dollars.

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