T&T PM: Workers to get stocks in ‘new’ Petrotrin

(Trinidad Guardian) Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley last night as­sured that Gov­ern­ment is not clos­ing down Petrotrin, al­though it does in­tend to shut down its re­fin­ery op­er­a­tions. He said with the com­pa­ny con­tin­u­ous­ly los­ing and due to pay up on a US$850 mil­lion debt in months, Govern­ment had no choice but to act on the slide now.

Hav­ing heard the cries of Petrotrin work­ers who were out­side try­ing to get in ear­li­er but were un­suc­cess­ful, Row­ley said, “The Gov­ern­ment is not clos­ing down Petrotrin … The Gov­ern­ment of Trinidad and To­ba­go is not clos­ing down Petrotrin.”

He said Gov­ern­ment was ful­ly aware of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ty to the peo­ple of T&T and those most af­fect­ed by the im­pend­ing ac­tion.

“We un­der­stand very clear­ly the reper­cus­sions of the ac­tion that we have tak­en, that we need very lit­tle en­cour­age­ment and very lit­tle ad­vice as to our re­spon­si­bil­i­ty to the peo­ple of the south­land for whom that re­fin­ery was their bread and but­ter and their chil­dren’s fu­ture,” he said.

How­ev­er, point­ing out the “hor­ren­dous” fig­ures ac­coun­tants found which showed the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment had been hid­ing loss­es, which were giv­en to the au­di­ence be­fore the PM spoke by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert, Row­ley said the re­fin­ery as­pect of the busi­ness was “bleed­ing this coun­try dry.”

Say­ing that pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions had not been fac­ing up to the re­al­i­ties of these los­es and were not pre­pared to do what was nec­es­sary to save the coun­try, he told the crowd that “a day of reck­on­ing al­ways comes” and the PNM was not afraid to re­struc­ture Petrotrin to re­turn to earn­ing rev­enue.

He al­so pledged to of­fer Petrotrin work­ers stocks in the re­struc­tured com­pa­ny, say­ing this would give them a chance to make ex­tra earn­ings.

Ear­li­er, how­ev­er, De­von Matthews and El­la An­del’s D Jour­ney played loud­ly as tem­po­rary and ca­su­al work­ers from the Pointe-a-Pierre re­fin­ery marched on­to the com­pound hop­ing to get an­swers to burn­ing ques­tions about their fu­ture.

But they be­came an­gry with­in sec­onds as they squared off with South­ern Di­vi­sion po­lice who blocked them from en­ter­ing the cen­tre. Cry­ing “dis­crim­i­na­tion” and “dic­ta­tor­ship”, the group, many of whom spent decades rais­ing their chil­dren with in­come from the re­fin­ery, said they were al­so from the Mara­bel­la com­mu­ni­ty and had a right like every oth­er cit­i­zen to at­tend the meet­ing.

While the work­ers cried dis­crim­i­na­tion, As­sis­tant Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Ir­win Hack­shaw told me­dia there was no dis­crim­i­na­tion by po­lice of­fi­cers.

Wear­ing OW­TU jer­seys and armed with flags they faced off with the of­fi­cers, who even­tu­al­ly had to call for re­in­force­ments. Even Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley’s se­cu­ri­ty de­tail stood guard at the door, keep­ing the union at bay.

The work­ers be­came even more in­censed when En­er­gy Min­is­ter Franklin Khan said there were 1,229 non-per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees at Petrotrin with a wage bill of $21,000 per month each. In the past sev­er­al years, he said the over­time bill had av­er­aged $22.7 mil­lion, adding that there was once a car­pen­ter who earned $70,000 a month in over­time.

The work­ers claimed this was a lie, ac­cus­ing Khan of at­tempt­ing to mis­lead the pub­lic and turn them against Petrotrin work­ers. They added that Petrotrin had over 2,000 ca­su­al and tem­po­rary work­ers in the fields of in­stru­men­ta­tion, au­to me­chan­ics, welders and op­er­a­tors.

Harold Joshua, who worked at the re­fin­ery for the past 37 years, said many of his col­leagues who showed up last night were in their 50s, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to find em­ploy­ment af­ter the re­fin­ery clos­es. Joshua said their prob­lem was that in every­thing Gov­ern­ment had said about the shut­down of the re­fin­ery, they had made no state­ments on the fate of the ca­su­al and tem­po­rary work­ers.

“Some of us are ready to go home but the prob­lem for us is, where are we go­ing to find work at 57 and 58 years old? When you go to an em­ploy­er and you tell them your age, they’ll ask you what you can do,” Joshua said.

“This is so stress­ful to us and our fam­i­lies. Some­times the com­pa­ny hires con­trac­tors for the re­fin­ery and they fail. When that hap­pens, it is the ca­su­al and tem­po­rary work­ers who have worked for years who are the ones that have to fix the mess.”

For the young work­ers, they said busi­ness­es in Mara­bel­la will be closed down be­cause the spend­ing pat­tern in the com­mu­ni­ty will be ham­pered. This means that busi­ness in Mara­bel­la will not be able to hire those laid off by the com­pa­ny.

Works and Trans­port Min­is­ter Ro­han Sinanan lat­er said the work­ers were de­nied en­try be­cause the cen­tre was al­ready filled. The work­ers even­tu­al­ly left the com­pound, re­turn­ing to the road­side.

Police officers block OWTU members from entering the PNM’s public meeting at the Marabella Community Centre last night.


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