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Workers to protest outside PM’s home
President general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) Ancel Roget says workers will protest outside the private residence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, resist proposed austerity measures and prevent any private company from operating a bunkering facility in T&T. Roget announced those measures during a rally on Brian Lara Promenade, Port-of- Spain, yesterday after a two-hour march through the city by an estimated 4,000- strong group of trade union members and supporters.
Among the unions which participated were the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union, Communication Workers Union, Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union, T&T Unified Teachers Association, Transport and Industrial Workers Union and Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union. The march began on Independence Square North and went along Henry Street, Queen’s Park West, St Vincent Street, Park Street, Frederick Street and ended on the promenade.
There was a heavy police presence. The workers were denied use of a music truck for security reasons. They stood under umbrellas and other shelters during the contribution of some of the speakers at the rally. First vice-president of TTUTA Devanand Sinanan said several schools were adversely affected by the event, as teachers stayed away to participate.
President of the SWWTU and the National Trade Union Centre Michael Anisette said operations at National Flour Mills and the Port of Portof- Spain were also affected. The OWTU is insisting that the proposed bunkering contract must be given to Petrotrin and not the privately-owned Bunkers Oil T&T Ltd, which had been given “conditional approval” but not a licence to operate.
“We are prepared to shut the refinery down and leave it down for as long as necessary if they are preparing to give that away,” Roget said. He said Bunkers Oil was registered in T&T on July 2 and got the licence on August 21. He called on Persad-Bissessar to launch an immediate investigation into the granting of a licence and to examine the roles of Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine and the Petrotrin in the bunkering issue.
“That fuel belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and if the Petrotrin workers cannot get it on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, nobody will be allowed to get it,” Roget insisted. “And don’t tell me that you’re bringing soldiers, because soldiers can’t start up plant and produce gasoline...soldiers cannot work offshore in the drilling operations and so on.”
Roget is also demanding that the Government conclude all outstanding negotiations for new collective agreements speedily and to the satisfaction of the workers. He said the workers were not prepared for any private talks with Persad-Bissessar or Labour Minister Errol McLeod. “The time for sitting down with you (Persad-Bissessar) and your Minister of Labour and other ministers, that time gone long time,” he said.
He said trade unions could only expect to be set up if they engage in secret negotiations with the PP Government. Roget said Finance Minister Larry Howai did not have the moral authority to talk about introducing austerity measures, and questions remained over the payment of a $10 million gratuity to Howai when he left his position at First Citizens to assume his ministerial portfolio earlier this year.
“The only austerity measures we are going to have is to have workers on the streets,” he said. He said the next protest by workers wouldn’t be on the streets. “We’re going to take it to the lady herself. We’re not going to talk, we’re not going to beg, we’re not even going to ask. We are going to demand as workers that we get a fair share of this economic pie,” he said. Roget told workers that Persad-Bissessar was the chief employer and they had a right to picket the employer.
He said thousands of workers would visit the PM’s office, her official residence and her personal residence in south Trinidad. “We will not rest. There will be no industrial peace in Trinidad and Tobago unless these matters are brought to a successful conclusion,” he added. “We are preparing for one of the biggest walkout.” He advised parents to keep their children at home next week as TTUTA rests and reflects next Thursday and Friday to protest the delay in concluding a collective agreement for teachers. Sinanan said if the CPO failed to complete the proposed external labour market survey, teachers will take to the streets, and if the exercise was not completed soon, “we will continue to protest.”
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