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Roget: Fight goes on
Seventy-five years ago, on July 15, 1937, the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) was formed. Last Sunday, the union commemorated its humble beginnings, with a re-enactment of the first meeting at Forest Reserve, Fyzabad, near the spot where it was held.
Written and performed by Tony Hall of the Lord Street Theatre and Arts-in-Action, the script was based on actual notes taken by ER Blades, the first OWTU general-secretary, who at age 110, was present at last Sunday’s celebration. Actor Brendon La Caille, who portrayed Blades and his role in the formation of the union, pointed out to the amusement of the audience “that in 1937 we were fighting against the Union Jack, but in 2012, the union fighting Jack.”
Among the audience were OWTU stalwart Thelma Williams, 98, president of Petrotrin Khalid Hassanali and former government minister Lincoln Myers. In an interview with the T&T Guardian, after the re-enactment of the OWTU story, the union’s president general Ancel Roget agreed with La Caille’s statement.
“That is true, because those who are in control now believe they can do as they please, how they please and to hell with democracy, to hell with workers, without whom you do not have an economy,” he said. “A lot of disrespect is taking place today, by guess who, our very own locals, all of whom we put in control of the economy and the country’s interest, but they are attacking the very workers who put them there and are denying them their rights.”
He recalled that it was in August 21, 2011, that “the Government implemented a state of emergency, not to deal with crime as they suggested, but to silence the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) which was agitating for better wages and salaries for workers.
“Let me say categorically, that the OWTU and the JTUM will never forget the PP Government for implementing a state of emergency against workers and the trade unions...It was a bad signal and we will find ways to pay recognition to that date,” Roget said. He said after 75 years of struggle and gains made by the union, some employers were still victimising employees for joining trade unions.
“This must change, it will change and the penalty for breaking this law must be stiffer,” he said. Roget noted what he described as many strides made by the union, but said that there is still a lot to be done in terms of labour legislation and reform to ensure that workers are protected. “We have raised the standard of living and the quality of life of the people we represent, in the oil and gas industry, in electricity,” he said.
“Above and beyond that, the OWTU takes very seriously and critically the interest of the country and the country’s development. “Through our clamour for the ownership and control of this same oil and gas industry, which is very critical to our economy, we have helped shaped and moulded the development of the country’s economy.” He pointed out that the energy sector contributes to some 45 per cent of the GDP and that there is no sign of a change anytime soon.
“We continue to befriend and advance the interest of the workers, without whom you don’t have an energy sector,” he said. Hassanali, who said he was impressed by the historic celebration, noted that the union is a very important stakeholder in the industry.
“Therefore, we are happy to be part of not only the re-enactment of history, but to see it as a place of moving forward in a manner where both the union and the company can collaborate in increasing our oil production and improving our refinery output,” he said.
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