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Who will fit the wage bill?— Chamber

Published: 
Wednesday, January 11, 2017

As Petrotrin agrees to spend an additional $80 million annually to increase the salaries of its employees, Penal/Debe Chamber of Commerce president Shiva Roopnarine is questioning how the additional expenditure will be raised.

Roopnarine congratulated Petrotrin’s management, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) on reaching an amicable resolution to their wage dispute on Monday.

He said the chamber was pleased that the economy did not suffer any further losses at the start of the new year, especially with the labour force and productivity dwindling.

Concerned about the lack of improvement in the economy, he said members are hoping to hear how the Government plans to generate the proposed revenue in the mid-year budget review.

“We cannot spend more than we are earning, and we cannot increase borrowing to fulfil debts at the risk of a devaluation and inevitably increased inflation. All of civil society and citizens who are concerned about our future need to stand in solidarity to lend support, not to a government but a nation. Our voices need to be heard.

“We ask these questions again. If Petrotrin is running at a loss, who will pay for the increase in wages? Would it be the citizens by means of an increase in personal taxes or an increase in VAT? Would the business sector be faced with increased taxation to fund this increase? Would the Government continue to borrow? Would the management of Petrotrin send home workers in an attempt to fulfil salary obligations?

If salaries increase across the country, but your purchasing power decreases, is that good for the workers? We need to decrease inflation and maintain the cost of living at an acceptable level. If a devaluation is the key to paying increased salaries, then the question must be asked, Is it worth it?” The chamber’s position was that Petrotrin needed to return to profitability and not depend on State resources. This can be done if the OWTU, its members and Petrotrin management correct the problems at the company.

Petrotrin’s current wage bill is $2 billion and they average $4.5 billion in operating cost. The company also has to repay its US$750 million bond. Its revenue declined from $37 billion in 2012 to $16 billion in 2016. The company also has a large debt to repay for mega-projects, some of which are yet to be completed.