Calm amidst COVID

Caribbean Cement Company is striving to ensure that it does not have to lay off any of its more than 500 direct and indirect employees during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, even as it imposes several new measures to keep staff safe.

General manager of Caribbean Cement Yago Castro on Wednesday told the Jamaica Observer that the company started planning for the possible damaging impact of COVID-19 on Jamaica some two months ago and has implemented several changes to ensure that its operations continue smoothly while staff members are provided with all the recommended safety material.

“Being catalogued as an essential industry for the country, we need to operate under very serious health and safety measures. We do it all the time — health and safety is our first priority for our employees but you may understand that in a situation like this it is even more important,” said Castro.

The company, Castro explained, used the experiences it had in other countries where it operates.

“For example, those in Europe where, unfortunately, they have been going through very hard times due to the COVID pandemic. And we have taken some of the good practices that they have been doing there in order to protect our workers”.

He said the advance planning included the purchase of protective equipment such as N95 masks, sanitary kits, and handheld thermometers, which are now being used by security guards to monitor the temperature of anyone entering the plant in east Kingston.

Castro underscored that the company has also increased the number of hand-washing stations in its plant and installed a number of sanitising stations, at least 15, around the facility.

“The company took this very seriously from the beginning when we started hearing about the COVID thing in China. At that stage the company started to assign different protocols, depending on the situation.

“The protocols were in gradual phases depending on whether the virus had already arrived in the country, or whether there were some positive cases already, or when the country started having some deaths. So we could escalate the measures we needed internally,” said Castro.

He added that the company has also increased, and improved, the communication channels for the workers and the trade unions representing them so that anyone can share ideas on measures which can improve safety from the pandemic.

“Do not forget that this is new for everybody, so we [managers] can think that we are doing things well but the workers down there can realise that there are some other things that we can do easily and contribute to the security and health of everybody, which is the final objective,” declared Castro.

The cement company boss said so far the COVID crisis, and the measures implemented by the Government, including the more than week-old nightly curfews, have not yet impacted production at the plant.

“Basically our production would be affected by the demand for cement and the demand so far has not declined yet. It has declined a bit, but we are approaching the Easter week, which is a lower week in sales normally, but it is not that we have detected so far a drop in demand in Jamaica. The drop in demand will come. We think it will come shortly. Probably this week we will start seeing some decline but none so far,” said Castro.

“We have the same staff. We have not laid-off people. This is a measure that we would love not to implement if possible but of course, we will have to analyse whether these things stand for four weeks. Of course, it is going to hurt our business very heavily if the demand starts dropping,” added Castro as he noted that the cement business is very capital-intensive.

“But we will try to protect the positions, the workers, as much as we can and I can tell you that we are not taking a free opportunity [from COVID- 19] just to lay off people and improve our numbers. We are totally opposite to that, but of course we have to take care of our P&L [profit and loss] too, so we will try to find a good tradeoff, but initially we haven’t and we are not thinking of laying off anyone,” said Castro.

He noted that cement company workers are included in those who are exempt under the rules governing the nightly curfew and this extends to the contractors transporting its products.

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