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Resist privatising Petrotrin

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The current impasse between Petrotrin and the OWTU with respect to a new collective agreement has been uppermost on the minds of citizens of T&T at this time.

This, at a time when another matter with respect to a prior collective agreement remains unresolved at the Industrial Court.

It would be remiss of me to comment on a matter that is still sub judice and while negotiations are still ongoing with respect to the new agreement.

What I do have a problem with, however, is the fact that some segments of the population—obviously opposed to the OWTU, which is exercising its rights under the Constitution to threaten strike action— are calling for the closure and privatisation of the company.

Privatisation is the act of transferring property/business operations from a government organisation to a privately-owned entity.

There are many reasons why certain persons opine that privatisation will be a panacea or cure all for the current loss-making position at Petrotrin.

But the fundamental rationale is that the private sector’s main motive is that of turning a profit, cutting cost and being more efficient, while that of the state is to further the public interest.

This, in my own view will be taking both a myopic and a pedestrian view of a complex situation.

There is no doubt that government will make a one-off profit from such a transaction but this will amount to transferring the patrimony from the hands of the many into the hands of the few.

In addition, government will be losing out on future dividends, taxes and profits.

In its quest to turn a profit a private enterprise will have no compunction to protect the job of the employee, who will be the first to face the axe as the new entity pursues the profit margin.

If government is foolish enough to fold to public pressure, take the easy way out, yield to temptation and privatise this important entity, it would in effect be relinquishing control of a publicly owned monopoly into the hands of a private monopoly which would have the potential to set exorbitantly high prices and exploit consumers.

What I will recommend, however, is that government seeks to wipe the slate clean by writing-off the company’s debt as far as possible, while simultaneously cutting through overhead costs in the form of obscenely high management costs/salaries.

Putting into effect a system of profit-sharing which should make employees more committed to ensuring the company turns a profit and installing a system of pay-for-performance to ensure a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

Peter Narcis



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