(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.