The management of the St. Vincent Shipyard Ltd. (SSL), the locally registered company that has leased the Ottley Hall Marina and Shipyard, on Friday responded to workers’ demands for outstanding salaries by shutting for one month the facility they have leased from the government for 15 years at the giveaway price of US$5,400 per month.
The workers called iWitness News to the facility to highlight their case and portrayed chair and managing director of the company, Venezuelan, Daniel Ravotti, as a rude, uncompassionate manager, who is exploiting his workers.
“Today, we are faced with a situation where wages are unpaid. We are being paid a portion of it and not being paid all of the outstanding,” Steve Ollivierre, operations manager at SSL, told iWitness News.
“Today, I received a bounced cheque of 1,000 dollars. And this has been going on for some time now. Our position is, we need to be paid; we need to be paid immediately all our outstanding wages to continue working as it is,” said Ollivierre, who told iWitness News that the company owes him EC$32,000 in unpaid wages over 16 months.
Another worker told iWitness News that the management is saying they have no money.
“So I want to know how the government could give a broken company to run this show if you don’t have money. This is an expensive place. You have to find money for the workers,” the employee said, adding that while the shipyard gets jobs off and on, “right now, we full”.
In June 2015, SSL which announced that it had secured a 15-year lease of the state-owned Ottley Hall Marina and Shipyard, took over the operations of the facility from July 1, 2015.
The government was granted EC$165 million debt forgiveness for the marina which was built by the New Democratic Party administration and has been the subject of an inconclusive inquiry.
Vincentian, Mark Lulley, a director of SSL, which is composed of Vincentian and foreign directors, said the company would engage in a number of restorative activities in relation to the shipyard to make the facility ready for full operations.
SSL had said it would spend over EC$5 million in this regard, including plans for the completion of a small hotel and the re-opening of the supermarket.
But less than a year after SSL began operations, workers began complaining about the non-payment of wages.
Mingestu Jacobs, the trade union delegate at the SSL, told iWitness News that the situation with workers there is a “dire situation — where workers cannot get paid on time; conditions are not being met.
“Apparently, the company that has taken over has been violating the lease down here. The whole staff is disgruntled at present. Basically, we are trying to address the situation, but it got out of hand, where the managing director had some disrespectful remarks towards us,” Jacobs said in the same interview as Ollivierre on Friday.
Jacobs said that the managing director usually uses obscenities on the workers
“But today, he was demanding that we either go back to work or he shut down,” Jacobs told iWitness News, adding that that decision was taken even after a meeting in which workers came to a compromise that they will go back to work, “which he does not have any money to pay us, because everyone wants to earn a dollar.
“Afterwards, he came back and said, ‘I pull the plug so I will close down the place for a month and you guys go home and I will get a skeleton crew to come and work,” Jacobs said of Ravotti.
Jacobs told iWitness News that the company still has vessels in the dry dock that can be worked on.
“And I don’t see no need for us to go home. I don’t see no need for us to be arguing over money. If we have vessels in the dock, I don’t see no need for us to be arguing over money. Money is there; just the management team to market the place to bring in sufficient money for us workers to work here.”
He said the staff is composed of 20-something Vincentian workers and about six Venezuelans.
Ollivierre said there was a meeting Friday morning trying to strike a compromise and to try to work out a plan for making the payments and managing the company effectively.
“And, as always, he fails to listen, he fails to understand our problems, he sees it his way, very egotistical and it’s an on-going problem,” he said of Ravotti.
“He will start giving reasons as to how we can make it and, at the end of the day, come back to his ego. Shut down or else,” Ollivierre said, as another workers commented, “The same routine”.
On Friday, the company issued to all staff, a memorandum on the “present situations” saying, “Due to a technical breakdown of the company St. Vincent Shipyard Limited (SSL), we are force (sic) to discontinue normal operations at SSL with effect from 21st November, 2016. Work is expected to resume on 22nd December, 2016
“During that period you would not be paid
“All outstanding monies owed to you would be paid by the end of November, 2016
“We apologies for any inconvenience this may cause and look forward to working with you in the future.”
“Signed “Management SSL”
Ollivierre said that the MV Admiral is on dry-dock undergoing repairs at the shipyard.
“Work will only resume to this when we are satisfied with our wages. The CEO of this company has been showing marked disrespect for all its workers. Lack of structure; lack of empathy; total disregard for the local people and, to some degree, his Venezuelans. We are asking to have this nonsense stop today. Finish! Be paid! Put the structure in place!” he said.
Workers said that their social security (NIS) deductions are not being paid in to the state agency after they are withdrawn from their wages.
“We are smiling because, we are actually angry, but, at the same time, we cannot fight nobody,” Jacobs told iWitness News.
Jacobs and Ollivierre said that Noel Jackson, general secretary of the National Workers Movement, the union that represents the shipyard, has visited the site a number of times trying to address the issues.
“But it seems like it has spiralled out of control presently,” Jacobs said.
In July, SSL and the NWM signed a new agreement and the trade union leader said he was looking forward to a change in the industrial relationship climate at the shipyard.
“… we are still trying to compromise just to make the situation a better situation for everybody,” Jacobs told iWitness News on Friday.