17 Oct 2007

Strike at cement plant cripples New Caledonia construction sites

6:40 pm on 17 October 2007

A bid to free up supplies of cement for New Caledonia's strike-crippled building industry has failed, as industrial action there drags on.

A strike by members of the USTKE union has stopped production at the territory's only cement plant for nearly a month.

The union accuses the Swiss-owned company, Holcim, of abusing its monopoly position .

Our correspondent in Noumea, Claudine Wery, says up to four thousand people in the wider building industry are without work as a result.

She says the strikers had agreed to release some cement to desperate contractors yesterday, but the company turned the empty trucks away at the gate.

"The strikers agreed to free one thousand five hundred tonnes of cement to help the small businesses to avoid bankruptcy, but so far Holcim has refused to permit the loading of this cement."

New Caledonia's main employers organisation, Medef, is defending Holcim, saying it's up to the union to end the strike.

Holcim could not be reached for comment.