Protest fires blazed and more than five jeeploads of police descended on Union Estate yesterday, as scores of La Brea residents staged an angry protest for jobs. “We hungry, La Brea people need work,” the protesters shouted as they formed a human barricade and prevented workers from entering the main gates leading to the estate. They also piled tyres and old appliances at the gates, vowing to intensify their protests if the Government did not heed their cries. At the exit gates, fires were lit but were quickly put out by the Fire Service.
Chairman of the People of the Southwest Peninsula for Industrial Development and the Environment, Ezra Vaughn, said the residents were concerned because less than five per cent of them were hired to work at the construction site of the Union Estate power plant. She explained that sub-contractor Damus had promised to employ 40 per cent of its workforce from La Brea but this was not being done. “People are struggling to survive,” she said.
“We are seeing people from Chaguanas, Arima, Princes Town, Moruga and even Chatham coming on the estate to work, but only a few people from La Brea… This is not fair. “We want part of the pie and we want increased economic activity in the area. We have lots of skilled tradesmen in this area and we expect to get some employment.” She said her group was not against construction of the new Point Fortin highway and was anticipating a better life in the depressed community.
MP for La Brea, Fitzgerald Jeffrey, said he planned to contact Damus about the problem. He said the company had an agreement to employ a certain percentage of the workforce from La Brea. “The high unemployment rate is the reason why I was fighting so hard to get the smelter going… I am looking at sustainable employment and that’s why I was so keyed up about Alutrint,” Jeffrey said. He noted that the Point Fortin highway project was capital intensive and he did not believe it could generate 27,000 jobs.
Damus’ president Ashton Beharry and executive chairman Dwight Mahabir were reported to be in meetings yesterday and were unavailable for comment. A source at the company, however, said people from La Brea have been hired. He explained that many residents had failed drug tests and the company had suffered because of poor quality labourers. The spokesman said specialised skills were required for construction of the plant which was expected to be completed by July.