OWTU injunction hearing adjourned as State asks for AG to be involved

The Government is attempting to intervene in the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU)'s application for an injunction stopping Petrotrin from starting the process of terminating workers. 

Lawyers for the State indicated their intention as the application came up for hearing before a five member panel of the Industrial Court, at the court's headquarters in Port-of-Spain, this morning. 

While making brief submissions, Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam, who is leading the Office of Attorney General's legal team, claimed that Government wanted to intervene in the case in order to raise public interest concerns that would arise if the injunctive relief is granted. 

"The Government is of the view that for Petrotrin to continue as is, it will be a burden that the country and taxpayers cannot bear," Jairam said. 

While Petrotrin's attorney Vanessa Gopaul did not object to the move, it was strongly opposed by Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, who is leading the OWTU's legal team. 

Mendes pointed out that the State had no jurisdiction to enter the case as it does not concern a trade dispute between the parties over the terms and conditions of employment for workers. 

He stated that it stems from an industrial relations offence, which his client filed against the company for allegedly failing to engage in collective bargaining negotiations with it.  

The offence, which is the only criminal charge under the Industrial Relations Act, carries a maximum fine of $4,000. 

If eventually granted, the injunction would block Petrotrin from terminating workers, pending the Industrial Court's determination of the industrial relations offence. 

Although he admitted that the alleged offence arose out of an ongoing dispute between the company and the union over the closure of the company, he said that the State could only intervene in the event that that matter reaches the court. 

Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix and her colleagues appeared to agree with Mendes' point, however, Jairam agreed to withdraw the State's application before they could rule on it. 

Jairam indicated that the State would now make a formal application to be joined as a party to the proceedings. 

The issue of the State's application occupied the court for most of the hearing. 

In any event, the injunction application would not have been heard during the hearing as lawyers for the OWTU and Petrotrin had previously agreed that it should be adjourned to tomorrow morning as Petrotrin's lead counsel Reginald Armour, SC, is abroad. 

- by Derek Achong

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