T&T oil workers preparing for strike

(Trinidad Guardian) Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) President General Ancel Roget yesterday announced that the union will serve strike notice on State-owned Petrotrin on Wednesday.

In response, president of the energy company Fitzroy Harewood said Petrotrin was not prepared to increase it’s zero-zero-zero offer to workers.

“Given what now seems an inevitable strike action, the company has initiated a number of contingency measures to ensure continuity of supplies to the local market for petroleum refined products as long as reasonably possible,” Harewood said in a letter to employees.

“It also goes without saying that the company’s financial losses will be greater due to the loss of revenue expected during the period of a strike.”

If the workers go on strike, approximately 4,450 of the company’s 5,000 employees will be staying away from work for 90 days. Production of crude oil, which is used to make gasoline, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel, will be severely affected leading to shortages at the pumps.

At an emergency press conference at OWTU’s Paramount Building headquarters in San Fernando yesterday, Roget warned citizens to brace for the effects of the strike.

“At the end of that marathon session between the OWTU and Petrotrin, conciliated at the Ministry of Labour, we are today nowhere closer to a settlement, so we have decided and we have confirmed that conciliation comes to an end on January 3, next Tuesday. The period for conciliation would have expired.

“The OWTU has taken the decision that we are not going to go for any extension and that on Wednesday morning, bright and early we are going to serve official strike notice on Petrotrin,” he said.

Referring to statements by Finance Minister Colm Imbert last week about Petrotrin’s board not having authority to negotiate salaries without the ministry’s knowledge, Roget said the union had expected a better offer.

“We thought he would have sent them with a position to close these negotiations and no such approach was taken and therefore we are nowhere closer to a resolution of these very important and critical issues,” he said.

Thursday’s meeting was the third round of conciliatory talks between the company and the union over negotiations for the periods 2011-2014 and 2014-2017. Roget said the negotiations were a political issue and he called on Government to intervene.

He promised that the union would be available anytime before Wednesday if Government decided to step in and “save the day.”

Roget did not state what figure the union might settle at but said: “Once there is a reasonable offer on the table, we will consider it. When you consider everybody else got 14 per cent, one per cent or zero per cent is not reasonable and they ought to be guided by what was the national settlement.”

He said the workers and union were not afraid of being condemned for their actions and would welcome debate on the merits of their strike.

“When you don’t get gasoline at the filling stations, don’t blame us. When you have problems at the airport to refuel jets, international and otherwise, local service and otherwise, don’t blame us. When the management says that they can guarantee a reliable service, which in normal circumstance they cannot even manage properly and the situation turns up-sided down-when that occurs, do not blame us,” he said.

Roget said the workers were also calling for the removal of Harewood because the company was suffering due to mismanagement.

Efforts to get a comment from Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday were unsuccessful as he did not respond to calls to his cellphone or voicemail messages.

In a letter to employees yesterday, Harewood said the strike action seemed inevitable.

Citing the company’s contractual requirement to make $1.2 billion in debt payments in 2017 and the fall in oil prices, Harewood explained that Petrotrin did not have the money to make retroactive payments for the 2011-2014 period.

“The cost impact of this is projected to increase the salary/wage bill by approximately $165 million at the end of the first period, with a pay-out of over $279 million as retroactive payment,” he said.

“Such an increase would serve to further exacerbate the situation facing Petrotrin’s business which has already been severely impacted by the approximately 50 per cent drop in world oil prices between 2014 and the present time.”

Harewood said if Petrotrin was made to pay any increases to employees, it could affect the company’s ability to meet operational costs.

“Any increase in manpower costs will result in increased losses and further exacerbate our cash flow situation, thus exposing Petrotrin to the risk of funds not being available to meet our operational requirements.”

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