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Petrotrin and union must work together
When Petrotrin workers downed tools for seven days in protest, the resulting losses not only caused production cutbacks at the oil company’s refinery and drilling platforms, but also negatively affected its ability to meet its commitments to its overseas suppliers. The loss, according to company officials, is at least $700 million, with even greater negative repercussions likely for the entire country.
It was ill-timed, irresponsible action by workers from all branches and units of the company, including the refinery, bond, port and Trinmar, who stopped work and assembled outside the entrance to Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre facilities to block tanks from filling up on fuel.
While the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) makes provision for industrial action, including strike action, on this occasion, the workers, led by the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), had no real basis for this work stoppage, which resulted in significant curtailment of crude oil production and the shutting-down of the refinery.
They took the action, they claim, because Petrotrin failed to upgrade their medical plan, fill vacancies, and disburse variable pay (profit-sharing) for 2009/2010. The union is demanding a payout of $145 million, while the company said there was a loss for that period and hence, based on the collective bargaining agreement, no variable pay is due.
In an attempt to resolve the matter, Petrotrin offered to pay workers an advance towards the 2011/2012 variable pay, but that was rejected by the OWTU. Instead, at the height of the protest, OWTU president general Ancel Roget warned that the union, which had in the past led workers in strikes that lasted three or four weeks, could “multiply that shutdown by another three or four weeks.”
Had that been allowed to happen, the losses to Petrotrin and T&T would have been astronomical. At the time of the shutdown, Petrotrin’s refinery was producing 160 barrels a day and production in Trinmar was at 22,500. The latter plunged to 15,900 as a result of the work stoppage—all due to action taken on issues outside of the collective agreement.
What makes the action even more unfortunate is that it occurred just a short time after the two sides signed six collective agreements for the period 2008-2012 on February 27, resulting in increased benefits for the very workers who embarked on this recent, destructive protest. The workers gained a nine per cent salary increase over three years and a ten per cent increase in all allowances across the board, as well as other improvements in their terms and conditions of employment.
It took an injunction from the Industrial Court to end the recent protest. The court has recommended that the OWTU and Petrotrin go into conciliation to resolve the outstanding issues. Today, the parties will return to the Industrial Court for further directions and hearing of the injunction and the oil company’s complaint about an industrial-relations offence.
In the interest of all of T&T, both sides must now set aside all acrimony and adhere to good industrial-relations practices to ensure all differences are thoroughly addressed and resolved.
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