OWTU to file contempt case against Petrotrin

The Oil­fields Work­ers’ Trade Union (OW­TU) says it will file con­tempt of court pro­ceed­ings against Petrotrin for its fail­ure to dis­cuss the cri­te­ria be­ing used to staff the Her­itage Pe­tro­le­um Com­pa­ny Ltd and the Paria Fu­el Trad­ing Com­pa­ny.

In a me­dia con­fer­ence at the union’s Para­mount Build­ing in San Fer­nan­do Tues­day, OW­TU pres­i­dent gen­er­al An­cel Ro­get said that the union was plan­ning to get the process start­ed.

Last week, the In­dus­tri­al Court ruled in favour of the OW­TU’s com­plaint that the com­pa­ny act­ed in vi­o­la­tion of Sec­tion 40(1) of the In­dus­tri­al Re­la­tions Act by fail­ing in good faith to treat and to en­ter in­to ne­go­ti­a­tion with the union for the pur­pose of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly, the shut­down of the com­pa­ny and the re­trench­ment of its 4,700 em­ploy­ees. The court or­dered Petrotrin to meet with the union to dis­cuss the “is­sues re­lat­ed to the terms and con­di­tions of em­ploy­ment of the work­ers for which the com­pa­ny had a du­ty to dis­cuss with the union.”

The is­sues in­clud­ed the cri­te­ria be­ing used in the re­hir­ing process, the pro­posed struc­ture of the com­pa­ny, the work­ers’ pen­sion, sav­ings and med­ical plans, and oth­er ben­e­fits and the com­pu­ta­tion of ter­mi­na­tion pack­ages.

“The com­pa­ny re­fused to say what cri­te­ria are be­ing used in the hir­ing process and what is the whole struc­ture of the new com­pa­ny. It con­sti­tutes con­tempt of court and we will be go­ing for con­tempt of court pro­ceed­ings in re­spect of their re­fusal to an­swer those ques­tions. Re­mem­ber (Reynold) Ajod­has­ingh and (Wil­fred) Es­pinet, both mem­bers of the board of Petrotrin, are al­so mem­bers of the board of this new com­pa­ny. There­fore, they are du­ty bound to pro­vide an­swers to the ques­tions com­ing from the court. They did not an­swer,” Ro­get said.

Asked whether the ter­mi­nat­ed em­ploy­ees are be­ing pre­ferred for em­ploy­ment in the new com­pa­nies, Ro­get said the union sus­pects that may be hap­pen­ing. How­ev­er, he be­lieves there is an at­tempt to dupe the pub­lic in­to be­liev­ing the peo­ple are re­gain­ing sus­tain­able jobs when the re­al­i­ty is that they would be paid min­i­mum wage with in­ad­e­quate terms and con­di­tions of em­ploy­ment.

“Es­sen­tial­ly, it is to get the union out be­cause it is their be­lief that if they get the union out they can wreak hav­oc. That is what they will con­sid­er to be prof­itable and suc­cess­ful.”

Ro­get added, “They com­plain about the high salaries of work­ers that Petrotrin can no longer af­ford, but it is the same Petrotrin re­sources/fi­nances they will use to pay a bat­tery of lawyers, three se­nior coun­sel, to fight against an agree­ment that they would have made.

“It is the same Petrotrin they said don’t have mon­ey. They are now fly­ing in the face of every­one, say­ing they are pre­pared to pay a CEO a quar­ter mil­lion dol­lars per month for part of the com­pa­ny and that is the ba­sic wage. They did not talk about the ben­e­fits.”

He said that in one of the new com­pa­nies, there is a pro­pos­al to have 45 man­agers where un­der Petrotrin, there were 11. He said that in the union’s pro­pos­al for the re­struc­tur­ing of Petrotrin, that would not have been the case.

“What is hap­pen­ing there you are go­ing to have a se­lect­ed num­ber of high­ly paid peo­ple and a then a num­ber of ex­ploit­ed peo­ple. It will be likened to mod­ern-day slav­ery for yet an­oth­er time.”

Ro­get said that from De­cem­ber 1, the cur­rent pen­sion plan will be fur­ther bur­dened as 1,270 new re­tirees will be added be­cause of the ear­ly re­tire­ment of­fered in the shut­ting down of the com­pa­ny. He said al­so Gov­ern­ment had claimed that the plan was suf­fi­cient­ly fund­ed, the trustee: Re­pub­lic Bank, stat­ed oth­er­wise. He said the union was told by Petrotrin chair­man that the Gov­ern­ment will fund the plan, but the union did not trust the com­pa­ny. He added that Petrotrin could not say whether all work­ers will col­lect their sev­er­ance pack­ages on Fri­day, while there were many ca­su­al and tem­po­rary em­ploy­ees who worked for 15 to 30 years who were told that they did not qual­i­fy for sep­a­ra­tion pack­ages.

“We call on the Gov­ern­ment of Trinidad and To­ba­go, who have tak­en this de­ci­sion to ac­cept the rec­om­men­da­tions of the board to close Petrotrin, to do the cor­rect, fair and de­cent thing con­sis­tent with the Gov­ern­ment with the man­date to gov­ern for all of T&T to en­sure all of the work­ers you are putting on the bread­line, all of them re­ceived their ben­e­fits.”

Asked whether the OW­TU will seek to rep­re­sent work­ers of the new com­pa­nies, Ro­get said he did not want to com­ment on the union’s plan just yet.

How­ev­er, he said, “Cer­tain­ly, you can­not re­move the OW­TU from oil and gas. It’s like try­ing to re­move the “S” from Su­per­man’s chest. It’s like try­ing to re­move the white out of milk. No, that is not go­ing to hap­pen. The OW­TU was born and bred in the oil­fields and we will con­tin­ue to stay in the oil­fields.”

- by Kevon Felmine

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