Scrap iron workers have alleged they were brutalised by police and soldiers as they engaged in protests to force the Government to reopen the scrap metal industry.
With ten people being arrested and charged over the past two days, the workers have set up a permanent protest camp under a coconut tree at Cedar Hill Road, Claxton Bay.
Limping towards the camp yesterday, one protester said he was on the streets around 11 pm when a police van pulled up and two officers came out and told him he had to clean the debris left after a protest fire was set.
“I tell them I have no slippers but the man says he doh care. They make me clean the fire with a mop stick barefoot,” the protester claimed.
Under his feet was blackened with soot and covered with oozing water bladders.
While heavily laden trucks were parked along off-route roads in wait for further protest, the police also set up a camp at a company compound in Claxton Bay, executing stationary and mobile patrols. The Solomon Hochoy Highway, Southern Main Road and Cedar Hill Roads remained clear for most of the day yesterday and protesters bunked at their camp, where heaps of charred wires from tyres lay strewn on the roadside.
Clive Roodal, who was arrested, charged and fined $3,000 by a San Fernando Magistrate, broke down in tears.
“It’s not right what they doing to we,” Roodal sobbed, adding: “Where I getting money to pay that? They say to pay it online. I don’t know anything about online. In two months they will go with me to prison and what will happen to my ten-year-old son.”
He said scrap metal collection was the only job he could do.
“I am renting for $1,700 a month and I have my son books to buy. He will write SEA next year. If I get locked up, who going to take care of him? You think anybody going to hire me?” Roodal cried.
Another worker, Shawn Callender, said the scrap metal workers were the ones feeling the brunt of the shutdown.
“Other people have money to get by but we work day-to-day. If we have no day work, we don’t eat,” he said.
Callendar said the industry had kept him away from crime for 20 years. He said working in the industry had opened his eyes to extreme poverty.
“I see a woman feeding she chile coconut because they have no food and I tell her to hold a $20 and buy something, because we know poverty, we know what it is like to have nothing. We are not the criminals,” he said.
Another protester who requested anonymity called on the Government to find the real culprits who have been stealing copper cables, manholes and other public infrastructure.
“We suffering but the corrupt scrap yard dealers and others senior…who are involved in this racket, still making money,” one protester said.
He alleged those involved also worked at some of the State agencies affected by the thefts.
Aaron Sylvester claimed anyone who speaks to the media is likely to get victimised by the police. He said there was mayhem in Claxton Bay on Thursday night.
“Men had to jump in the river and hide from police. The police and regimental were brutalising we for protesting. Was madness here! They running you down, slamming the door on you, kicking you and why they doing that for? Because we fighting to earn an honest dollar?” Sylvester claimed.
Keishaun Perry also renewed his call for the Government to reopen the industry. He said this will allow the workers to buy books in time for school. He said Customs officers should be stationed at all eight scrap iron yards in T&T to monitor scrap metal that is exported.
Meanwhile, TTPS communications officer Joanne Archie, responding to the claims made by the protesters, said, “If police officers abused their authority or used excessive force, the persons so affected can make a report and it would be thoroughly investigated.”
Scrap metal exports are banned until February next year because of the prevalence of theft of the items at state and private facilities across the country. The Government has also set up a Cabinet sub-committee to oversee legislation to regulate the industry.