D-Day for Petrotrin

(Trinidad Guardian) By the end of today the country will be clearer on the future of the state oil company Petrotrin.

Today is D-Day for Petrotrin as the company meets separately with the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) which represents the majority of workers, the National Petroleum Staff Association and the Estate Police Association on the plan for the future of the state company.

Yesterday, company officials and Energy Minister Franklyn Khan remained mum on what the restructuring will entail, but union officials expressed concern that workers will be sent home. On Sunday, Khan under whose portfolio Petrotrin falls, told the media that today’s discussions are “significant,” because “for the first time we will lay bare what our plans are.”

Yesterday Khan declined further comment on the planned restructuring but he ruled out disposal of the assets saying: “Petrotrin does not belong to the PNM Cabinet, it belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and for the time being we operate in trust for the people.

The entrance to the Petrotrin Refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre yesterday. Petrotrin’s management is expected to meet with OWTU officials to discuss the future of the company today.

We will not flippantly dispose of the assets of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” Khan said.

The plan to be revealed by the company follows months of discussions and international expert analysis which examined what Khan described as “the quagmire that is Petrotrin,” including its finances, performance, debt and its benchmarking which Khan described as being at the “bottom of the fourth quartile.”

Khan said the plan which had been “formulated and accepted on the future of Petrotrin,” will be articulated to the unions today. It is only after those meetings that the national community will be informed of what had been decided upon.

He did not want to prejudge what will happen after the Company meets the OWTU but contingency plans are being put in place in the event of any action by the workers led by the OWTU.

Khan said “this country is ruled by law and order. Any action deemed illegal will obviously have to be dealt with.”

In a situation like this he said “contingency plans will have to be put in place,” but he declined to say what those are, “let us wait and see I don’t want to prejudge what will happen, let’s wait and see,” Khan said.

Khan reiterated his call for “maturity, pragmatism and nationalism,” saying this is about the “national interest.

Last evening officials of the OWTU met in final preparation ahead of the meeting with the company scheduled for ten thirty this morning.

The Union has mobilised workers for a meeting scheduled for three o’clock this afternoon immediately following the meeting when officials say they will also speak to the media on what was revealed to them.

Petrotrin Chairman Wilfred Espinet was unavailable for comment ahead of the talks and company officials reached by the Guardian said details of the plan will only be revealed after the company met with the unions.

Petrotrin has a combined workforce of more than 5,000 employees, the majority of whom are in the core operating areas, but the company provides indirect employment for thousands more.

Its salaries and wages bill according to Khan is “in excess of fifty per cent of its operating cost.”

The company is the source of all gasoline, diesel and jet fuel consumed by the country and is the pillar of the economy in South Trinidad.

However the company has a debt of TT$13B, owes the Government TT$3.5B in outstanding taxes and royalty, and has a bullet payment valued at US$850M due in November next year.

Yesterday the Energy Chamber posted a chart on its Facebook page indicating that between January and June this year Petrotrin imported over 15 million barrels of crude oil for the refinery.

40% of the crude oil imports came from Russia, 29% from Colombia, 22% from Gabon, 8% from Canada and 1% from Barbados.

Khan told the media on Sunday that apart from the cost to import the crude, “what compounds the matter is for every barrel of crude refined the company loses between US two dollars and fifty cents and three dollars per barrel, so you importing oil to lose money,” Khan said. Because of the amount being spent to import crude and the loss incurred on the crude, Khan said it had made the refinery “unprofitable.”

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