PORT OF SPAIN –– Former chairman of Petrotrin Lindsay Gillette Monday slammed the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) for holding the country to ransom with its strike notice, which is expected to be served on Petrotrin Wednesday.
Monday, Gillette said the threat by OWTU’s president general Ancel Roget to shut down the state-owned company was inconsiderate and irresponsible, as he urged Government to call out the army to run Petrotrin’s refinery if workers boycott work.
“Do you think the whole of Trinidad and Tobago is in support of that strike? You are going to strike when the country is going through an economic downturn and the price of oil and gas have fallen to such drastic levels? Do you think it is right to be having those kinds of issues on the table when the country is experiencing great decline? Come on! Are they going to reach a point of draining the country of everything it has? Where is your responsibility to T&T?”
These were the questions, Gillette said, Roget needed to answer.
“It means that if you are not getting your way you would hold a gun to somebody’s head. I don’t think that is necessarily the way you resolve issues and problems . . . because while you may be fighting for your workers, what about the 1.3 million people? People must exercise extreme responsibility when these things begin to occur.”
Monday, in the press release, the OWTU said that the period of conciliation regarding Petrotrin workers’ wage increase for the period 2014 to 2017 officially expires Tuesday and as such the union will host an emergency press conference at 10 a.m. at the Union’s Headquarters, in San Fernando, where Roget will make a statement regarding the expiration of conciliatory talks and new information reaching the union pertaining to the negotiations.
The release also said that there was one last meeting scheduled between the OWTU and the Ministry of Labour at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Ministry of Labour office in San Fernando.
Gillette said Trinidad and Tobago should never be in a situation where the country has to import fuel if the shutdown lingers for a prolonged periods.
“We should not be going down that road. The reality is that we have gas and oil as a country. We should never be held to ransom. Never! No one person, no one organisation or no one company should hold a country to ranson. The answer to that is absolutely not. Little things like this can hold the country for ranson. We really have an issue at stake. That is my point.”
Gillette said if the strike action lingers, the army can be brought in to fill in for workers who would stay home.
In 2012, Gillette said Petrotrin experienced a similar situation where workers downed tools after former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine had announced that Cabinet had decided to grant a licence to a local operative, a subsidiary of Bunkering International, to run a major bunkering facility in T&T waters. The army had to be called in 2012, he said.
“We did it when we were there. The army had a big role to play. We have to get the army ready to handle any situation . . . this situation. The army can carry this thing for a while. They were trained in the port and the refinery. It is a fully trained functioning unit. You have many options but the army is trained to do that. There is no two ways about it. The army can do the job.”
He said Petrotrin’s managers were also trained and capable of keeping the refinery operational, Gillette said.
“There are options they can institute.”
Last Friday, Roget announced that following a marathon session of conciliation talks at the Ministry of Labour the offer by Petrotrin in wage negotiations remained at zero-zero-zero.
The OWTU has demanded ten per cent for that period.
Roget warned that if Petrotrin failed to settle negotiations by Tuesday, there would be a complete shut down of the company.
In response, president of Petrotrin Fitzroy Harewood said the company was not prepared to increase it’s zero-zero-zero offer to workers.
“Given what now seems an inevitable strike action, the company has initiated a number of contingency measures to ensure continuity of supplies to the local market for petroleum-refined products as long as reasonably possible. It also goes without saying that the company’s financial losses will be greater due to the loss of revenue expected during the period of a strike,” Harewood stated in a letter.
If the workers go on strike, approximately 4,450 of the company’s 5,000 employees will be staying away from work for 90 days.
Production of crude oil, which is used to make gasoline, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel, will be severely affected leading to shortages at the pumps.
Gillette said Petrotrin had to find ways to hammer out some kind of agreement with the OWTU.
If the strike persists, Gillette said a lot would be at stake.
He said the worst-case scenario coming out of the strike was that no fuel would be available to the public, which could cripple the entire country, mainly businesses.
Asked if importing fuel was an option, Gillette said yes, but noted that the country should never resort to this measure.
“We should never go down this road.”
Roget and OWTU’s chief education and research officer Ozzi Warwick did not respond to calls Monday, while president of the Energy Chamber of T&T Dax Driver reserved comment.
Driver said the strike issue was a “complex matter” and the chamber would issue a press release Tuesday or Wednesday.