ST JOHN’S, Antigua—
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New ultimatum from union
The Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) issued a final ultimatum to Petrotrin and Government yesterday — make a wage offer to workers by Monday or operations at the State-owned energy company will be shut down.
OWTU President General Ancel Roget, who made the demand after serving strike notice on the company, said although the collective agreement mandates that they give the company a minimum of 96 hours before the strike takes effect on Sunday at 10 am, the union is giving Petrotrin an additional 24 hours to reconsider their 0-0-0 salary offer for the 2014-2017 collective bargaining period.
“We told the president of the company, while serving him, that despite the fact that we have served strike notice, we are still open to discussions between now and Monday morning, which discussions can see a change in position, which would change the outcome of all of this,” Roget said.
“If between the time of serving that strike notice this morning to Monday morning we get a call from the Government, we are open to discussions so don’t blame us if the Government does not call, don’t blame us if there is no change in position because all we want is something reasonable.”
He warned “the nation will go into a tailspin because there would not be enough fuel to go around for local consumption and local motoring. Premium, super and diesel and even LPG.”
A fresh effort to settle the negotiations will be made today when officials from the OWTU and Petrotrin meet with Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus in Port-of-Spain from 1.30 pm.
There was a heavy police and security presence outside Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre administrative offices from early yesterday as scores of workers wearing OWTU T-shirts gathered at the gates. The workers circled the Pointe-a-Pierre roundabout and the company’s gates, singing union songs accompanied by tassa drums, then marched with Roget unto the compound where Petrotrin president Fitzroy Harewood was officially served with notice that under Part V of the Industrial Relations Act they plan to stop work for 90 days.
Even if the strike goes ahead, the company can negotiate a settlement within that period.
If there is no settlement, the dispute will go to the Industrial Court where another OWTU/Petrotrin dispute for the period 2011-2014 is already pending. In that matter the company also offered 0-0-0.
Roget advised workers not to listen to criticisms of their planned strike action from various business groups, including the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA) and the Energy Chamber.
“None of them run the refinery, none of them work in the producing fields, none of them put their lives and limbs at risk, but all of them benefit when we work and the ones that don’t benefit are the ones we are talking about here this morning,” he said.
Roget urged Petrotrin’s casual and temporary workers to support the strike and warned that it would be very dangerous to work in the refinery with minimum crews.
A prolonged strike could result in shortages of gasoline, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (cooking gas) for commercial and domestic use.
“To the casual and temporary workers, we are advising you that one of the most important feature in all of this is for us to fill vacancies so do not work against yourself by responding to any call to work when your union and the other workers are on official strike.
“It is very dangerous to be working short crews, minimum crews. It is unsafe to work minimum crews in the refinery,” he said.
In response to questions that the company would hire scab labour to keep the plant running, Roget said, “Well there have always been that element, but I think that workers are self respecting enough now, understanding the position that has been taken in their own interest and in the interest of the company.
“We expect this strike to be well supported as you have seen this morning. Workers have supported it, also workers throughout the field continue to cry for their settlement.
“As a matter of fact, they said to us that we took too long to call this but we said to them that we have to be reasonable but the workers said that we took too long.”
The OWTU leader claimed the 0-0-0 offer was really Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s imposition of austerity measures on the country.
He said members of the public who are critical of the union’s actions will only understand when Government increases fuel prices again and implements more belt tightening measures.
Roget said during the final conciliation meeting at the Ministry of Labour’s San Fernando office, the Petrotrin team was in contact with Imbert, who kept asking for more information.
However, they offered no new position.
Petrotrin’s contingency measures
In a media release yesterday, Petrotrin said measures have been put in place to ensure continuity of the supply of products from the company, but did not give details.
During a previous strike at Petrotrin, officers from the Crime Suppression Unit of the T&T Police Service provided security for workers who chose to continue working and soldiers drove tankers for fuel distribution.
Public affairs officer of the T&T Defence Force Lt Cmdr Kirk Jean-Baptiste said a meeting was planned yesterday to decide what role the military could play in mitigating the effects of the strike.
Responding to talk of contingency measures, Roget said soldiers and police are not trained to operate plant equipment.
“I don’t know where in the training for police and soldiers that they know how to start up and run a cat cracker. A cat cracker is a very volatile piece of equipment with one wrong move.
“That is what workers endure . . . and it is not 100 per cent optimum in terms of its performance in integrity. I don’t know that soldiers know how to do that. I don’t know that police know how to do that.
“What I do know is that both the soldiers and the police cannot do the job that they are paid for right now because they cannot hold down the crime. How can they, not being able to do their own job, do somebody else’s job for which they are not trained?” he asked.