SSL needs new investors to rectify cash flow problems
November 25, 2016
SSL needs new investors to rectify cash flow problems

The St Vincent Shipyard Limited (SSL) at Ottley Hall is seeking new investors to help rectify cash flow problems, which its says have led to workers not receiving their full wages for some time now.

Daniel Ravotti, the company’s managing director, last Friday took the decision to close the shipyard and discontinue normal operations “due to a technical breakdown of the company.”{{more}}

He told reporters on Wednesday that the economic crisis in his home country of Venezuela is one of the reasons why the SSL cannot pay workers their full wages.

In a memorandum issued last Friday, the managing director told workers that during the period November 21 to December 22, when the plant would be closed, they would not be paid.

Ravotti’s decision came after the company’s 34 employees complained that they had not received full wages since July and demanded full payment.

However, a temporary solution to the wage issue seems to have been hammered out last Monday, during a meeting between the National Workers Movement (NWM), the union that represents the workers and Ravotti.

At a press conference at SSL’s conference room on Wednesday, Ravotti in the company of president of the NWM Noel Jackson, tried to explain the company’s financial difficulties and the efforts being made to keep things going.

“We are on a slow period right now and we have been having some setbacks. When the company took over this place, we had a plan and we had some projections and some perspectives like everybody coming to make a new business.

“Unfortunately by July this year the economic situation in Venezuela reached a peak and it went from bad to worse and that is affecting us, because most of the capital that we were investing here on the island were coming from the other companies we run in Venezuela,” explained Ravotti.

He said that the lack of capital from Venezuela is also coupled with a slow period at the shipyard and that has created a deficit. According to Ravotti, this deficit means that plans that were in the pipeline for the shipyard in relation to infrastructure and other things had to be halted.

“I am going to be totally honest with you, we have been struggling and we are trying to do our best to continue forward … with this project and with the company,” Ravotti said.

He noted that to rectify the problem, the company is looking for investments and foreign investors, as they move away from only bringing capital from companies in Venezuela to finding other investors. SSL is currently seeking investors in St Lucia, Germany, Italy and in right here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), he said, adding that the Government has been supporting SSL and trying to help them solve some of the issues.

SSL took over the shipyard after signing a lease arrangement on June 23, 2015 with the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. EC$5 million in the agreement was earmarked for restorative work, but that was never done.

Jackson said that the NWM signed a collective agreement with SSL a few months ago and the Union’s role is to protect the interest and the values of the workers who are members of the NWM. He said that over the last few months, some difficulties arose and the NWM has tried its best through meetings and discussions to see how they can get the company to continue to make regular payments.

Jackson said that paying the full wages has been difficult, because cash flow is a problem and SSL has been having to spend a large part of their income in wages and have not been able to deal with some of the other issues like Pay as You Earn (PAYE), National Insurance Services (NIS) and the Central Water and Sewerage Authority (CWSA) and other things that require the company to operate.

He said through extensive discussions, the NWM is satisfied that SSL is having difficulties and this has been passed on to members.

Jackson said that workers must not engage in activities that would make the problem worse and they must remember that workers were given continuous employment by SSL when the company took over.

He said that the company that previously owned the marina did not pay workers severance, so workers with 15, 18 and 20 years of service still have to be paid severance and are in a position to lose that if the company folds.

The NWM president said that even though wages have not been coming as the workers like, the fact remains that they are accumulating the wages that they will receive in some point in time.

Jackson noted that he has managed to talk Ravotti out of closing the business for the Christmas season, as workers will want to have money in their pockets at this time of year.

“We felt that under the circumstances we needed to try to protect that situation as much as possible and to intervene to ensure that payment is made whenever the employer has the necessary capital,” said Jackson.

He noted that the NWM has been successful to some extent, but the company continues to owe, and based on information from the workers, the company owes about 12 days to the daily paid workers.

Jackson, however, said he is not sure how much the company owes the few monthly paid workers it has. He said that persons are saying that the workers are owed a whole lot of money in wages and that is not the case.

Operations manager at SSL Sylvester “Steve” Ollivierre, who described Ravotti as disrespectful and lacking empathy, in a letter said he is owed EC$36,755.13 from his first contract at SSL and EC$17,160.08, his salary for September and October this year.

A partial payment of EC$1,000 on Thursday, November 17 was paid to him, but when he attempted to cash the cheque, it bounced.

Jackson, however, said that Ollivierre is not a member of the NWM.

On Monday, workers who are members of the NWM voted unanimously to return to work.(LC)