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Less noise and more wisdom, please

Wednesday, January 4, 2017
A gas tanker past protesting Petrotrin workers outside the state-owned company's headquarters in Pointe-a-Pierre, yesterday.

The OWTU’s leadership did not surprise anyone by serving Petrotrin with the strike notice it had been promising the country the past few weeks. The added bonus for the union—the prolonged drama dominating more news headlines in an uncertain economy.

The predictability of it all does not make the outcome any less disappointing. Despite the protestations, their move appears to be less about the union really caring for its current and future workers and more about power and opportunism.

Now the nation has just a few days before it either sees its gas stations running out of fuel or, Petrotrin and the Government capitulating to the OWTU’s demands for wage increases the State-owned company can hardly afford. In other words, whichever way these confrontations go, it is us—the taxpayers—who normally end up paying dearly.

With the Rowley administration emerging from retreat on the day the strike action was served, one of the first orders of business is the meeting with Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and the leadership of Petrotrin and the OWTU. Although expectations are low, we sincerely hope that the meeting will be productive and yield what is best for the country.

That’s because, as this newspaper stated a number of times already, this dispute goes much further than just a difference of opinion between a trade union and a company. It touches issues that have the ability to define Trinidad and Tobago’s economic future and by definition, its prosperity.

Let’s be clear–this is about an opportunity to develop an approach that allows us all to share the benefits of our oil revenues, not just a few privileged workers. It is also about creating a new industrial relations model that replaces the shouting and the threats with grown-up discussions based on pay growth in return for higher productivity and efficiency.

This fundamental change of approach is needed not only because it makes sense—just look at Germany’s model—but because we need to stop dreaming of a return to high oil prices as the temporary quick fix to the structural cracks in our economy.

So far the debate over the Petrotrin dispute by some of its key stakeholders has been less than edifying and inspiring. Today Ms Baptiste-Primus has the opportunity to take the first and fundamental steps towards a historical change in how these matters are dealt with and how the government looks after the assets we entrust it to grow on our behalf.

History is never kind to those in power who opted for a quick fix for political expediency. They usually come undone, eventually. Given where we are, the route of a quick fix would be both deplorable and lazy.

On the eve of Epiphany, we truly hope all concerned will have their own moment of discovery and work towards a long-term, sensible and truly patriotic solution to the dispute.

Failing that (and the omens are not good), the Government should think twice before showering OWTU with gifts in the vain hope the problem will go away. We are sure Ms Baptiste-Primus knows that wisdom sometimes is also about being resolute.


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