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OWTU seeks to block Petrotrin firings

Wednesday, October 3, 2018
OWTU members outside parliament for the budget presentation on Monday. Photo by:Abraham Diaz

While Government has begun processing a $2.6 billion retrenchment payout to 3,400 Petrotrin refinery workers the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), in a surprise move yesterday, filed an application at the Industrial Court, Port-of-Spain, to bar the termination of the company’s workforce.

The matter will be heard at 10 am today in court. The hearing will coincide with the start of the OWTU’s three-day protest march beginning in San Fernando and ending in the capital city on Friday. (See other story)

OWTU president general Ancel Roget confirmed that the union’s attorneys filed an injunction in the Industrial Court to prevent Petrotrin from sending home its workers, as the state-owned company had breached an industrial relations offence outlined in its April 3, 2018, Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by Robert Riley, adviser to Petrotrin’s board, which outlined restructuring the company over an 18-month period and to form a working committee.

The MOA also paved the way for Petrotrin to be divided into four entities—Land: North and East (LNE), Trinmar Offshore Operations, Exploration and Production and the Augustus Long Hospital.

The MOA stated that the committee would address, resolve and agree on the four organisational structures, work processes, skills, competencies and manpower requirements which would make the company internationally competitive and ensure its survival, sustainability and profitability.

Both parties also agreed to a timetable for meetings starting in April 2018 with the enhancement of operational efficiencies, reduction of waste and the promotion of the company’s business.

“Petrotrin has breached this MOA. And so an industrial relations offence has been committed, which we want ventilated before the court. The union has filed an application to prevent the company from sending home its workers,” Roget said in a telephone interview with Guardian Media Ltd.

In the application, the OWTU argued that Petrotrin had not been meeting and treating in good faith with the union.

Asked if he was exploring his options in preventing the State from liquidating Petrotrin’s assets, Roget said, “That is another matter. You have to remember what brought us to this point, in that we would have agreed to co-operate in so far as restructuring the company is concerned into a MOA which they have abandoned.”

In a release issued yesterday, the OWTU maintained the current approach by Petrotrin was not about restructuring but shutting down the company, which was never recommended by the Lashley and Solomon’s and Associates reports.

In announcing the shutdown of Petrotrin’s Marketing and Refining operations in August, Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet said the company did not meet with the union because they wanted to have a proposal to put on the table regarding the restructuring. Espinet said after consulting with experts, the board’s proposal was presented to the union, which was to shut down and terminate the workers.

During Monday’s Budget, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said terminated employees of Petrotrin will be provided with attractive packages. Early estimation puts this termination payment at approximately $2.6 billion.


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