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Do the right thing, Dr Rowley

Published: 
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley PHOTO: NICOLE DRAYTON

In this first day of the Government’s retreat, we expect that it will find the grit to deal with the self-serving bully in our playground. These are dark times and we must do the right thing – not the easy thing.

The OWTU promises to serve notice of strike action against Petrotrin tomorrow and has placed the removal of Petrotin’sPresident as a condition of settlement. The threat is formidable. We need a courageous stand and the Government must support the Company’s leadership and its 0-0-0 offer.

If we look to Barbados’s biggest union, the BWU, we will see several instances where they have accepted 0% - even a full moratorium on salary increases at American Airlines. Clearly, this is not business as usual, but the OWTU itself recognises that Petrotrin is not business as usual (see yesterday’s letter to The Guardian from Ozzi Warwick). In its progressive wisdom, the BWU has recognised that the real fight is for survival.

In 2015, Petrotrin was the third largest national taxpayer. But these taxes are not paid against profits, but against revenues. The Company has been making substantial losses since 2014,with the wage bill representing about 14% of the sustained losses.

Yet, Mr Roget’s response in last week’s emergency press conference is to promise a strike that “… will not be able to fuel the economy… The economy will shut down!”, stating that this is the only option available under the Industrial Relations Act. This is untrue – the conciliation process is not exhausted and the breakdown can be referred to the same Industrial Court, whose integrity the OWTU publicly defended a couple of weeks ago in a number of paid advertisements.

A careful listening to Mr Roget will also uncover a blatant disregard for the noble principles that Mr Roget espouses with impunity:

• He claims that “everyone else” got 14% wage settlements in the 2011-2014 period. But according to the Court’s records, only 25% of the OWTU’s agreements for years falling within this period were 14% or above. The other 75% averaged at less than 8.5%.

• He makes accusations of “corruption, malfeasance, nepotism and bad governance” and then ironically proceeds to berate the Government for not fulfilling “its duty and responsibility” when “… the present government, the PNM, benefitted” after the OWTU travelled the “length and breadth of Trinidad & Tobago, campaigning”. Roget concludes that there will be “a very high political price to pay”. This, sounds like unashamed, disaffected cronyism.

• Mr Roget makes calls “in the interest of equity, fairness and decency” and then demands the summary dismissal of the President and employee, Fitzroy Harewood. So, doesn’t Harewood deserve to be treated in accordance with the principles of natural justice and good industrial relations? If shutting the country down to deny Mr Harewood these rights isn’t harsh and oppressive, then what is?

Incidentally, the last time that the Court ruled on an unfair termination against a Petrotrin manager, it awarded a landmark $2,218,800. Mr Roget ought to remember – it was his union who took the case and would have earned a nice cut of that judgment.

In the one plus year of Harewood’s leadership, Petrotrin’s losses have halved, even though its revenue is half of what it was three years ago.

Mr Rowley and Cabinet take heart: find the courage to do the right thing.