Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Fallout from illegal August strike: NP Fires 68 Workers
State-owned fuel distributor National Petroleum Marketing Company Limited (NP) has fired 68 employees for what it described as an “illegal work stoppage” at the company’s gantries at the NP’s head office in Sea Lots, Port-of-Spain, in August.
They were part of a group of 85 workers who had engaged in an Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union-sanctioned work stoppage from August 13-15. Their actions had resulted in panic buying throughout the country and all 85 employees were initially suspended with pay while the company investigated the matter. Following disciplinary hearings, however, the company yesterday terminated the employment of 68 of the group for breaches of their contracts.
In a one-page statement issued yesterday, NP’s acting corporate communications manager Rae Gilbert said individual disciplinary hearings were held on October 7 and 10 and each suspended employee was given the opportunity to respond to the following charges:
• refusal to perform job functions
• participation along with others in an illegal work stoppage
• unauthorised absence from work stations
Work stoppages such as this one, Gilbert said, have resulted in severe losses to the company over the past two years. “Over the last two years there have been 20 work stoppages by the OWTU at NP. A single work stoppage equates to $9.5 million in loss of revenue per day to NP,” she added. The employees were represented by the OWTU during the hearings. NP said the OWTU cited health and safety issues as the reasons for their members withholding their labour during the specified period.
“However, at the time of the illegal work stoppage, the OWTU cited privatisation as the reason for their illegal activity, as documented in several interviews given by the OWTU to the media,” Gilbert said in her statement. NP also requested an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) body in July, which took place on August 28 and 29 and September 3, 11 and 12 this year.
“The company is in receipt of the OSH report which did not trigger the issuance of an improvement or a prohibition notice, as is mandated in cases of serious or imminent danger in accordance with Section 74 of the OSH Act,” Gilbert said. Saying NP remains committed to the practice of good industrial relations, Gilbert said the company’s focus was to ensure the timely delivery of fuel to service station networks, airports, industrial customers, including the Port Authority and Powergen, hospitals and the protective services.
“We have been able to maintain a non-disrupted operation in spite of the illegal work stoppage initiated by the OWTU last August,” she said. “NP has actually doubled the efficiency of its deliveries since this illegal work stoppage and is committed to ensuring its continuity.”
A source said last night that OWTU officials were in emergency discussions in the wake of NP’s action yesterday. Calls to OWTU president Ancel Roget and other members of his executive thus went unanswered when the T&T Guardian sought a comment on the matter.
The NP workers had protested over what they claimed was an attempt by management to privatise the company. Wayne Leacock, OWTU’s branch president at NP Port-of-Spain, told members of the media in August that the walkout was a show of the employees’ concerns over management’s award of a $394,000 contract to a private company to conduct loading on the gantry.
Leacock was quoted as saying, “Since the appointment of the chief executive and this board the workers have been fearful for the security of their jobs and their future. “The model that the company is taking now is one of outsourcing the jobs and the workers are fearful that they could lose their jobs through outsourcing.” The company denied then that any such move was being made.
Leacock had also referred to two permanent employees at the Pointe-a-Pierre branch who were dismissed because they refused to train managers to load the trucks at the gantry. Those managers in turn would train people coming from private companies to do the workers’ jobs. “The workers at NP are here to do their jobs and will not stand by and allow this precedent to be set where any contract labour will take over our jobs,” Leacock added.
He said the company’s collective agreement stated that no job done by workers should be contracted out if it would demote or make those workers’ jobs redundant.
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