Fiery protests involving scrap ironworkers are intensifying as they demand that the government lift a six-month ban on old metal and copper exports.
But although the police and army kept watch, setting up mobile and stationary patrols, the protesters still managed to block the southbound carriageway of the Solomon Hochoy Highway, triggering a massive traffic pileup from Claxton Bay to Freeport.
An ambulance on its way to the San Fernando General Hospital got caught in the blockade which was cleared within half an hour.
Huge mounds of charred wire from burnt tyres lay strewn at several points along Cedar Hill Road and Southern Main Road, Claxton Bay where over 107 scrap iron dealers operate.
The protesters also threw heaps of mud, gravel and rotted debris in the centre of the roadway.
Soldiers used heavy machinery to clear the debris as fast as the protesters blocked the road, and three people were arrested and charged with obstruction.
While the protests burned on the highway, dozens of scrap iron men met with the Movement for Social Justice political leader David Abdulah asking him to use his influence to get the ban lifted.
Daniel Joseph said they had no other alternative but to protest.
“I have four children and I can’t buy food for them. They just shut down the industry one day and we cannot pay the rent. Do you think we could tell the landlord to wait six months? No! School opening next three weeks, we cannot buy the children’s school books,” Joseph said.
“I have been working scrap iron for eight years. This sudden move to shut down the industry affecting us really bad. We have no employment. The Devil does find work for empty hands,” he warned.
Work, he explained, was hard to come by and the scrap yard industry was their only hope.
“When we were working construction, we used to get $350 but the Venezuelans came and working for $100 per day so people don’t want to hire us because they don’t want to pay,” he explained.
Kishon Perry, another scrap ironworker said he too was finding it difficult to support his family.
“I am the only person bringing in something in my household and since they shut down the industry, is no food. You think we could go by the neighbour and ask for something to eat?” he said.
He added, “People not employing we. Some of us have a criminal record. No employer employing us. This is the hussle we know about.”
Devon Hayde also said the scrap iron workers were disappointed in their MP David Lee and the Scrap Iron Dealers Association which he alleged was seeking its own interest.
“Right now we need we work back. We don’t have time and if this ban isn’t lifted we will carry it more devious. It will reach to Bobbihead. If we can’t eat, none of you will eat,” Hayde said.
He said, “Claxton bay is the hub of scrap metal. Every morning 107 vans leave from Claxton bay to roam the whole of Trinidad. You leaving one hundred and something families without food and it is not right.”
The political leader of the Movement for Social Justice David Abdulah said many recommendations have been made to regularise the industry.
“Government has failed to address the issues they raised. This industry is important. It employs thousands of people and this industry earns foreign exchange for this country. Every month 5,000 containers are exported from T&T with scrap metal. That is foreign exchange for this country,” Abdulah said.
He added, “When you shut down the industry, what will happen to people? There are truckers who haul the containers, and the shipping agencies which process the containers are affected. This shutting down has major implications for thousands of people. It is wrong, unjust and an economic crime against the people of T&T.”
“We are calling for the industry to be reopened,” Abdulah added.