Petrotrin workers celebrate as union cracks Govt’s five per cent wage cap

(Trinidad Guardian) Petrotrin workers celebrated victory through the streets of San Fernando on Friday upon hearing that the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union had smashed the Government’s five per cent wage freeze, bringing looming strike action to a halt. President general of OWTU, Ancel Roget, called off his troops, saying the war had ended after 17 hours of marathon talks with Labour Minister Errol McLeod and Petrotrin’s executives.

All three parties were locked in conciliation talks after negotiations for the 2008 to 2011 period broke down. Roget came to the bargaining table with a 17 per cent demand, while Petrotrin offered eight per cent. McLeod met both parties separately for more than five hours each. At the end of the negotiations, the union managed to get a nine per cent general salary increase over three years, following the consolidation of Cost of Living Allowance, as well as a ten per cent increase on most allowances.

Temporary and casual workers were granted gratuity, while new driving allowances were granted for Petrotrin’s  document handlers. Medical benefits were also afforded to Petrotrin’s retirees on par with what is afforded to Trinmar workers. Petrotrin also promised to fill vacancies and send home all of the retirees who were given contracts to work in the refinery.

Five memorandums of understanding were signed for five bargaining units, including Petrotrin monthly-paid, Trinmar monthly-paid, junior staff, hourly and weekly-rated, as well as Petrotrin/Trinmar operations staff. When Roget walked out of the Ministry of Labour office on St James Street, San Fernando, the crowds had swelled to hundreds. They marched with him into a nearby car park where he told them they could begin to celebrate Carnival early.

Roget told his comrades that it was their “militancy and commitment” that had given the OWTU the leverage to negotiate a favourable package. He said: “You made us crack the five per cent wage cap. We secured a good settlement. We have gone where others said we could not go.” Roget said that the strike notice served on Petrotrin was a reminder of the might of the OWTU. “Sometimes a good threat is more powerful than the strike itself…We won this war, but the battle is not over yet,” he said. “We have another round of negotiations to settle.”

Meanwhile, vice-president of Petrotrin, Khalid Hassanali, called for healing to begin between the workers and the company. “We look forward to a certain amount of healing,” he said. “We look forward to a sort of a new beginning in terms of the culture of Petrotrin and we also want to walk forward in forging that new culture, a culture of performance, a performance that is rewarded and matched by the competitive wage that Petrotrin pays.” He commended the workers for their loyalty to Petrotrin, saying both parties must now settle their differences and work to the common good.

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