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Workers agree to a NFM, ECGC merger

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The move to have the Trinidad based National Flour Mills (NFM) buy into the Eastern Caribbean Group of Companies (ECGC) is welcomed by the employees, even if it means that some of them will be severed.{{more}}

Last month, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that he had discussions with his Trinidadian counterpart Patrick Manning and NFM officials about that company working towards gaining controlling interest in ECGC.

President of the National Workers Movement (NWM), Noel Jackson, said that the workers at the ECGC are desperate for any move that could put some impetus into the struggling company.

He also said that it is known that new investors in a financially crippled company often turn to staff cutting as one of the restructuring measures.

“There are workers who are willing to go, once they are given their right severance pay,” Jackson said.

He said that his Union has been working along with ECGC and had to work hard to convince the workers not to shut the company down during the recent salary negotiations.

Jackson told SEARCHLIGHT that the company was unable to offer anything of real substance to the workers.

“They gave a one off $500 payment in December, and we agreed to five per cent and three per cent in 2009 and 2010, respectively,” Jackson explained.

He said this increase is, however, tied to the performance of the company.

He said that the Union did not play hard ball with ECGC and that it defused all strike plans by workers because the situation with the company is truly a precarious one.

“The ECGC situation is a real situation,” Jackson said.

Meanwhile, former Managing Director of ECGC, Ken Boyea, has also endorsed the move to have the Trinidad company invest in ECGC.

“I don’t think that Trinidad needs to acquire 51 per cent, but on the other hand, ECGC needs a strategic partner,” Boyea said.

Boyea, who is currently tied up in a multi-million dollar legal battle with ECGC, said that he, however, thinks it would be foolish for the NFM to push for controlling interest.

“It could cause a lot of political flak,” Boyea said, adding that in all the dealings, the work of Sir Philip Veira, who founded the company, should be respected.

Boyea noted that the ECGC could benefit from piggy backing on Trinidad’s raw material shipments, which could help to lower the cost of production.

Boyea also noted that with the new investment, the protection under which ECGC operates could also be removed.

“The big problem in managing a protected industry is that they are in a comfort zone, and don’t look after the customers enough,” Boyea said.

Jackson added that an investment by NFM could see an improvement in the operations at the mill, observing that more up to date equipment is needed.

Meanwhile, an NFM spokesperson told SEARCHLIGHT that while the company is exploring interest in the ECGC, the discussions are in their preliminary stages.

The spokesperson said that they could not say what plans the NFM has for ECGC, when or if the NFM acquires ECGC shares.

“It is too early to speak of plans, and what we will or will not do,” the spokesperson said.

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