Last update: 07-Dec-2013 1:38 am
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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NP loses $190m
State-owned National Petroleum is nursing a $190 million loss at the hands of labour shutdowns. Company chairman, Neil Gosine told the Sunday Guardian that the massive loss was as a result of 20 illegal shutdowns in the past 24 months. But while Gosine is holding the representing union, the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), responsible for the financial hemorrhage, its president general Ancel Roget has turned the tables citing “poor management” for the multi-million dollar losses.
Neil Gosine told the Sunday Guardian that there was no way for the state enterprise to recoup those losses. Up to yesterday he was unable to say whether those 20 shutdowns were legitimate and due to Health and Safety issues as the OWTU is contending. “I do not have that information at this time on which were legitimate and which were not and would have to ask management to provide that information,” Gosine said.
In the past week, NP dismissed 68 workers for their alleged involvement in labour shutdowns and has been since criticised by Roget for being a government appointee, doing its bidding. “This is absolutely not true, this was not politically motivated. The company has and will continue to negotiate in good faith with the OWTU and remains committed to the efficient and reliable delivery of fuel to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
“NP maintains that the decision to terminate these workers was a management decision that was taken after careful and deliberate consultations with our external, independent legal and IR (Industrial Relations) advisers,” Gosine said.
Illegal work stoppage
He said that the OSH Agency was an independent body and said the OSH concerns which Roget provided to the media were not serious enough to necessitate the walk off. The five-page report listed 19 areas of concern including four road tanker wagons which had an “unsecured transfer hose” and a “leak on the transfer pump.” The gantry, the loading bay for fuel was also listed as having a “damaged housing on electrical cord” and “no secondary catchments for spillages from the loading arm.”
Under the heading Chemical Warehouse, the OSH Agency noted that the “equipment and products were haphazardly stored” and there were “obstructed” fire extinguishers and alarm call points. “The company is in receipt of the OSH report which did not trigger the issuance of a prohibition notice as is mandated in cases of serious or imminent danger in accordance with Section 74 of the OSH Act.
“The OWTU has cited health and safety issues as the reasons for their members withholding their labour during the specified period. However, there were no health and safety issues indicated to the company at that time. “NP wishes to reiterate that this was an illegal work stoppage by the workers and nothing in the OSH report was serious enough that would trigger the work stoppage action taken by the union. All identified issues by the OSH report was being addressed,” Gosine said.
Gosine: Contract labour kept the company running
Gosine said contract labour had helped keep the company running and supplying fuel during those 20 shutdowns. He said when there was a shutdown there was no revenue, yet the company still had to pay staff “even if they strike.”
“NP continues to lose that revenue as cost remains the same. To assist NP in its delivery of fuels to its approximately 140 gas stations across the country, NP has utilised pre-approved contractors with pre-approved trucks for many years to help deliver the fuel in addition to in-house personnel and in-house road tank wagons. Utilising the pre-approved contractors for delivery of fuel increased during the time of industrial action so that the motoring public do not suffer for fuel,” he said.
“Therefore, this helps the company compensate for the loses in the sales and thus the revenue.” Lost sales in the gas business cannot be recovered once it is lost to the competition as people do not postpone consumption of fuel like with other types of products, Gosine said. “The OWTU is aware of the pre-approved contractors that have been in operation for several years to supplement the supply of fuel to our gas stations.
“In fact they understand that the 20 road tank wagons that operate out of NP are not sufficient and that they cannot get out all the fuel required to supply NP’s network across the country. “This is how pre-approved contractors with pre-approved trucks are used to assist the company during these periods. NP has actually doubled the efficiency of its deliveries since this illegal work stoppage and is committed to ensuring its continuity,” he said.
But Roget has challenged this, stating that the company turned to contract and untrained labour in an effort to cut cost. This though would be to the detriment of the safety of those workers, he said. According to Roget, the contract workers, unlike the permanent workers were willing to take unsafe chances in order to keep the lucrative contracts.
Roget, citing Section 15 and 20 of the OSH Act, maintained that the workers had the right to walk off a job (without action being taken against them) once they believed their health and safety was being threatened.
Labour minister: I must practise impartiality
Labour Minister Errol McLeod said while he would love to weigh in on the situation, the dispute may soon reach his office. “I am supposed to act as the conciliator in these issues so I must practise impartiality until I talk to both parties,” he said. Roget, McLeod’s successor at the OWTU, said the matter will be referred from the company to the Labour Minister and then to the Industrial Court.
The Sunday Guardian attempted to contact both the OSH Port-of-Spain and San Fernando offices in order to better understand whether the report detailed enough infractions to allow workers to walk off the job. The receptionist for executive director, Alexis Boisson initially said she would pass the message on to her boss. By the next day, however, she told the Sunday Guardian that he would not be in until tomorrow.
At the San Fernando branch, three calls in three days by the Sunday Guardian were met with the same response: “None of them are in. They are not coming back in for the rest of the day.”
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