OWTU matter postponed for today as judge falls ill

Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 11:30

The second hearing of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU)'s industrial relations offence over the scheduled closure of Petrotrin has been postponed as an Industrial Court judge fell ill. 

OWTU president general Ancil Roget was expected to return to the witness stand when the case resumed at the Industrial Court's headquarters in Port-of-Spain, this morning. 

Lawyers representing the parties, a large group of union members and members of the media were only informed of the issue after waiting in court for almost an half an hour. 

Court staff informed the parties that the five-member panel led by the court's president Deborah Thomas-Felix agreed to set an additional hearing on Friday to make up for the lost time.

The panel had initially planned to hear evidence in the case between Tuesday and Thursday, this week, and is expected to deliver their judgement, next week. 

In the complaint, the OWTU is alleging that Petrotrin committed the offence by failing to properly consult with it before taking the decision to close the company and send home almost 5,500 workers. 

It claims that the company breached a memorandum of agreement signed between the parties in April, as the company only informed the union of the decision, after making it in conjunction with Cabinet in July. 

In its defence, the company is claiming that the memorandum of agreement was conditional as it was signed when the company's management was still in the process of analysing Petrotrin's financial position.

It claims that the position changed when, in mid-August, its consultants advised management that closure and restructuring into new companies was the only viable option. 

It claims that it was still open to suggestions when the union was informed of the company and State's position in August, but alleges that the union failed to present any viable alternatives. 

Although the offence only carries a $4,000 fine under the Industrial Relations Act, the union is asking the court to grant an order stopping the scheduled closure and compelling the parties to return to the negotiation table.

The Office of the Attorney General (AG) has been granted permission to intervene in the case but has been limited to presenting submissions on the potential impact of the order on the country's economy as the Government guarantees the company's billion dollar debt. 

The union was initially granted an injunction temporarily barring the company from terminating workers but it was overturned by the Court of Appeal. 

Since then the company has issued termination letters to the majority of its employees including Roget.

The Government has already registered a group of new companies which would take over aspects of the company's operations once it closes at the end of the month. 

- by Derek Achong