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Backlash after Petrotrin workers protest
The future of Inland and Offshore Contractors (IOCL) hangs in the balance after Petrotrin issued a warning for breach of contract after industrial action by workers last month. In a letter Petrotrin’s senior manager of production, Stephen Awah, said IOCL’s non-movement of vessels on February 28 at Trinmar Offshore Operation at Point Fortin had disrupted Petrotrin’s operations, causing loss of revenue.
Awah said Petrotrin reserved the right to take remedial action, which included termination, suspension, recovering damages and even removing IOCL from the list of registered contractors. IOCL’s agreement with Petrotrin for 15 offshore vessels and crew ends in May and operations manager Scott Pollonais said the recent strike could jeopardise the company’s chance for a new contract.
But workers who protested outside the company at the Otaheite Industrial Park at South Oropouche on Thursday, said they were forced into action as defective vessels had put their lives at risk. Workers said on February 28 they went to Trinmar’s Medical Department seeking attention for stress and anxiety as a result of the state of negotiations and working conditions.
Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union’s (OWTU) Trinmar branch president, Ernesto Kesar, said 50 per cent of IOCL workers were suffering from stress-related ailments which stemmed from long hours of strenuous work for inadequate salaries. He said the defective vessels were at major risks of sinking and explosions. “All we are asking for is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” Kesar said.
Once IOCL’s three-year contract ends, it must go through a new tendering procedure which also looks at the company’s history. Speaking at his office, Pollonais said: “This happened already at Dunlop, Carlisle Tyres and Trinidad Cement Ltd. Who are they to help the workers now? All this is grounds from Petrotrin to cancel our contract. I hope they don’t, because it is the workers who are going to suffer the most.”
The company employs more than 400 people and Pollonais said most of the workers will have to be sent home if the contract with Petrotrin is not renewed. It is the company’s largest contract. He said the protest by workers was unwarranted and that IOCL paid the best wages among all contractors at Petrotrin. Responding to claims that workers were suffering from stress-related ailments, Pollonais said he had requested a report from Petrotrin and was yet to receive it.
IOCL’s human resource manager, Rupnarine Chatelal, denied the claim, saying if workers had received medical attention for stress-related illnesses, their medical leave would be on record. Chatelal said workers were being treated fairly and it was the union that was hindering the collective bargaining process. Kesar said while IOCL has offered an increase of nine per cent, workers’ salaries were too small for the increase to have an impact on their lives and no pension and medical plans were being offered.
“Trinmar is not listening to what the union is saying, in terms of ensuring there is proper marine-craft safety on all the vessels that carry workers from the base to South West Soldado, Cluster Six, North Field and so on,” he said. “The workers here are captains, engineers, able-bodied seamen and cooks and comrades have been working under adverse conditions since 2009, having to manoeuvre these vessels, using spit and rubber band to hold these things together.”
Reading a letter from the OWTU, dated March 2, addressed to Pollonais, he said some of the problems on the vessels were defective starters on the starboard engine, leaking passenger windows, no bilge hand pumps on smaller vessels, only one working searchlight per vessel where two were required, defective passenger seats and defective hand rails.
Kesar stated: “We have received a medical report from the medical department of Trinmar Operations which indicates that a large percentage of your workforce may be suffering from stress-related illnesses. According to OSHA Act 2004, workers have the right to reveal concern about safety to their employers.”
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