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Roget: Backpay wouldn’t cost Government a cent
After seven hours of conciliation talks yesterday among the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), Petrotrin president Fitzroy Harewood and Minister of Labour Jennifer Baptiste-Primus there was no agreement on a wage settlement.
With time running out, president general of the OWTU Ancel Roget said Minister of Finance Colm Imbert was using a delaying tactic to respond to the “reasonable offer” the union had put on the table.
The proposal the OWTU offered was for Government not to pay the back pay now.
“That back pay can be paid over a period of time when the company makes more money... then they will pay that debt. Petrotrin ought to be put in a position to realise it fullest potential and that can only happen when they get this issue behind them,” Roget said.
Roget made the comment with an OWTU↔delegation outside the Ministry of Labour, in Port-of-Spain, following the marathon talks.
“If we do go into a strike...the clock is winding down...it is because of the Minister of Finance refusal to respond to what is a very reasonable approach on the part of the union. If anything at all we are being provoked into a strike by the Minister of Finance. So to him it is a joke, but to us it is no joke. He’s provoking it. We have reached our wits’ end with this Minister and if we have to take strike action to prove his incompetence we will do it.”
During their lengthy discussions, Roget said they examined if the Government came with anything to offer.
“They did not come with anything and we asked them to go back and talk with the ones who they say have the authority to give them something.”
Roget made it absolutely clear that the decision to offer did not rest on Petrotrin’s shoulders, but with Imbert who was “hiding somewhere and crunching figures...which figures does not add up to anything. When you crunch zero, you get zero. And we are at zero as we speak.”
Roget said he believed there was something else in the mix.
“And he (Imbert) needs to tell the country if we are on a wage freeze...if he had guaranteed the IMF that there would be a wage freeze or what are his issues. We are with information that there are people who are going to benefit as a result of this strike.”
Those people, Roget said, were connected to the Government who would import fuel at a “marked up price which they would sell to the Government and which Petrotrin would have to pay for.”
Roget felt as line minister for Petrotrin, Imbert should have been present at today’s meeting.
“It was a grave error in judgement to give the Minister of Finance the portfolio as Minister of Energy at the same time because he cannot be objective in the energy matter and finance matters because he would be cutting and contriving in most areas and the whole situation would be compromised. He is totally confused. But that confusion will be compounded tomorrow (Monday) morning when every single Petrotrin worker walks off his or her job. We commit to that if we did not get a settlement.”
If the matter is not settled, Roget said the strike would cost Petrotrin “many times more than the cost to settle.”
In going forward, Roget said that cost would be compounded.
Addressing the media before going into the meeting, Roget said he was optimistic of the outcome, but questioned why Imbert was refusing to settle even though it would not cost the Government anything.
“Is it that he gave the IMF a commitment that there will be no more wage increases in T&T.”