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Worker dissatisfied with Ocean Life

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When Augustus Belgrave arrived in the United States on May 3rd, 2009, recruited by a human resource company to work on oilrigs, he believed that a lucrative income was just around the corner for him. Unfortunately, that was not the case.{{more}}

In April 2009, Belgrave attended a recruiting event hosted here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines by Ocean Life Ltd.

Company representatives painted a rosy picture of potential earnings. They spoke about what employees could expect working on oilrigs as domestic/catering staff, and outlined other relevant information such as work schedules, living arrangements and salary. So Belgrave signed up, then left the state in May 2009 to embark on this new chapter of his life.

Belgrave acknowledges that upon arrival in the U.S, he was taken to the company’s training facility and underwent an intensive week of preparation for working on oilrigs and drill ships. He had a week’s break, and then commenced employment on the ‘Cajun Express’ – on oilrig located in the Gulf of Mexico. Belgrave claims that as originally agreed, he worked 28 days offshore then went on break. However, instead of the 2 – 4 day break he says he was originally told, he found himself idling at the company’s Louisiana residence for 3 weeks.

At the company’s residence, he claims that conditions were less than satisfactory. Belgrave, along with several other employees, were isolated in the countryside, had limited food supplies, slept on air beds instead of the bunk beds the company promised them, and, worst of all, had to deal with a rat infestation. “It was unsanitary!” he complained. Added to that, the residence supervisor informed them that the wooded area around the house was home to poisonous snakes.

After 3 weeks of voicing his objections to the residence supervisor, Belgrave was sent out to work again. This time on a drill ship, the Enterprise, in the Gulf of Mexico. At this point, he alleges that the work schedule was changed to 2 weeks offshore (working) then 2 weeks break. He claims that he worked on the ship for 3 weeks, went on break, and was never assigned to work again after that.

Belgrave related that after a few weeks of being at the company’s residence, he became disheartened and decided to return to SVG, as he was incurring expenses by being there, but not earning any income. He explained that during his tenure with Ocean Life Ltd, his pay cheques were always late, and he often queried deductions made from his salary, which Ocean Life staff members were unable or unwilling to explain. Additionally, the cost of his flight home was deducted from the final pay cheque he received from the company. A sum he believes he should not have been forced to pay.

Whilst Belgrave has no gripe with his actual employment whilst on the oilrig and drill ship, his issue is with Ocean Life Ltd and its poor treatment of employees and the irregularity of payment. Belgrave says that the experience has left a decidedly bitter taste in his mouth, and he believes that it is his duty to warn other Vincentians about what he deems as the company’s unfair practices.

Belgrave claims that he knows of many other Vincentians who over the years have been employed by Ocean Life and suffered similar experiences as he. “It’s real exploitation! They’re using us… I want people to know about it.” He spoke of a past Ocean Life employee whom he claims suffered a broken leg in an accident while on break. Belgrave alleges that the company dismissed the man because he couldn’t work and forced him to vacate the company residence in Louisiana. According to Belgrave, the man was left to foot his own medical bills, and was saved from being thrown on the streets by a Christian woman who came to his assistance. “We need to expose this company!” he denounced.

Ocean Life Ltd, however, denies all these accusations. Raphael Quashie, Manager at the company’s Bequia branch, explained that the company, which is U.S registered, is sub-contracted by Art Catering to provide labour to oilrigs and other commercial supply vessels. They currently employ over 100 people who work within an extremely demanding environment. “It requires strict adherence to company policies and established work procedures.”

Quashie alleges that Belgrave, on his return to SVG, threatened to smear the company’s reputation. In a statement to SEARCHLIGHT Quashie related: “While it is the policy of Ocean Life Ltd not to discuss individual employees’ circumstances, we are aware that Augustus Belgrave has discussed policies publicly on radio, and in other media his dismissal by our company.” He continued: “…the person in question was employed with Ocean Life Ltd but was terminated from employment for violating company policies.”

Additionally, Quashie claims that the company made arrangements for Belgrave to return to SVG but he refused to return as organized. He further noted that Belgrave complained to U.S authorities, which investigated the company and found the ex-employee’s accusations to have no merit. “Belgrave’s allegations are untrue and unfounded… we acted properly and sincerely in this matter, and fully in-keeping with our reputation as a reasonable employer.”

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